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Youth Messenger Online Edition

April-June

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The Origin of Easter
Bethany L. Muresan

Easter bunnies and colorful eggs . . . what do these have to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus? What’s your first response? You’d probably say, “They’re not related.” How about if we think really hard, logically we’re likely to still say—“Nothing in common!” Well, guess what? You’re right! In this article, we will trace how it came to be that a bunny (rabbit), which the Bible defines as an unclean animal, became associated with the innocence and purity of Jesus Christ. We will also explore whether Christians can in good conscience take part in the typical festivities including painting colorful eggs during the Easter season, a time claimed to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord.

Ancient Pagan Origins

Sun worship and pagan customs are ancient. Why did God tell His people to be separate from the other nations? One of the most important reasons was because those nations had rejected the one true God and had created their own false religions. Much of the rituals of primitive pagan religions revolved around the solar system.

What could Easter have to do with pagan customs? Well, for starters, let’s look at the timing of the festival. It occurs shortly after the beginning of spring or vernal equinox (when there are equal periods of day and night). This represents the rebirth of the sun after winter has passed. So instead of celebrating the resurrection of Christ, Easter also celebrates the “resurrection” of the sun. . .

Another question we should wonder is: What do eggs and bunnies have in common? Any good biologist should know that rabbits don’t lay eggs. Rabbits and hares are classified as mammals.

So, where did the eggs come from to begin with? “All over the world, wherever eggs are laid, they represent life and fertility. . . . They have been used in magic spells and in foretelling the future . . . and have been thought effective in promoting healthy and fertile crops and animals. Among the southern Slavs, for instance, the egg was, and to some extent still is, used in magical practices at the start of ploughing and sowing. . . . And there is a subconscious belief that the egg is the bearer of strength and the seed of life.” (Venetia Newall (1984) Easter Eggs: Symbols of Life and Renewal, Folklore, 95:1, 21-29, DOI: 10.1080/0015587X.1984.9716293).

With regard to Easter, the Encyclopedia Britannica published an article by Hans J. Hillerbrand which stated: “One view, expounded by the Venerable Bede in the 8th century, was that it derived from Eostre, or Eostrae, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility.” Eosturmonaþ was the Anglo-Saxon name for the month of April, in honor of the goddess Eostre.

A newspaper article entitled “Easter a Relic of Pagan Days” from The Times (Richmond, VA) published on March 30, 1902. offers some insight into the history behind the festival: “Strange as it may seem, Eastertide, like Christmas, is a relic of pagan days. In former days, when the dawn of civilization was just beginning to break, that time of the year when winter was passing away and summer approaching, was made a period of festivity. The people in their blind fashion thanked the unseen beings who ruled the world for the breaking up of the frost-time and prayed for plenteous harvests and fruitful flocks and herds. When Christianity pushed its way further and further into the then barbaric world the early missionaries, not wishing to antagonize their prospective converts, took this festival and consecrated its observance to the new form of faith. In England the festival became known as ‘Easter’ from the goddess Eostre.”

The spring or vernal equinox helps mark Easter celebrations, though Easter is not placed exactly on that day. The vernal equinox is kept in several ancient customs. An ancient Persian celebration known as Nowruz dates back nearly 4,000 years, rooted in Zoroastrianism and Persian mythology. One of the supplementary items in the festivities included painted eggs to symbolize fertility. Shintoism, a religion based on the belief that every natural object had spiritual force, also observed this equinox since that is when plants tend to flourish most. Perhaps most notable is the ancient pagan festival of the Anglo-Saxons, which is still celebrated by pagans today. According to CNN Travel, Stonehenge, England is home to a famous Neolithic structure where pagans and druids gather to watch the sunrise on equinox and solstices. According to an article by Padraic Flanagan published on March 20, 2014, in a British newspaper The Telegraph, “druids and pagans congregate at Stonehedge . . . to greet the dawn and watch the sun rise while performing fertility rites, . . . 
?celebrating the ancient Saxon goddess Eostre, who symbolizes fertility and new beginnings. The goddess is symbolized by eggs, representing new life, and rabbits or hares, for fertility.”

Introduced into Christendom

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia defines Easter as coming “from the Anglo-Saxon Eastre or Estera, a Teutonic goddess to whom sacrifice was offered in April, so the name was transferred to the paschal feast.”

“The Council of Nice, ‘out of complaisance to Constantine the Great, ordered the solemnity of Easter to be kept everywhere on the same day, after the custom of Rome.’ [Bower’s History of the Popes, Vol. 1, pp. 18, 19.]”—The Great Controversy [1888 edition], p. 686.

Easter was set to be the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. As previously mentioned, the spring or vernal equinox marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and signifies the rebirth of nature after a cold winter.

What about Passover?

One argument in favor of celebrating Easter might be its coincidence with the Passover. However, the Passover was replaced with the Communion Service. “On the fourteenth day of the month, at even, the Passover was celebrated, its solemn, impressive ceremonies commemorating the deliverance from bondage in Egypt, and pointing forward to the sacrifice that should deliver from the bondage of sin. When the Saviour yielded up His life on Calvary, the significance of the Passover ceased, and the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper was instituted as a memorial of the same event of which the Passover had been a type.” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 539).

“In instituting the sacramental service to take the place of the Passover, Christ left for His church a memorial of His great sacrifice for man. ‘This do,’ He said, ‘in remembrance of Me.’ This was the point of transition between two economies and their two great festivals. The one was to close forever; the other, which He had just established, was to take its place, and to continue through all time as the memorial of His death.”—Evangelism, pp. 273, 274.

As we can see in these two quotes from the Spirit of Prophecy, there is no purpose in celebrating the Passover anymore. It was replaced with the ordinance of the Communion Service, which we are told to continue observing until Christ comes and we can celebrate it together with Him once more.

So what’s wrong?

Some people might wonder what’s wrong with painting some eggs and just going along with the festivities for the “fun” of it. Well, what does God say about “Christianized” paganism? “Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them” (Jeremiah 10:1, 2). [Emphasis supplied.] Sun worship and other pagan rites is no new thing. The Israelites were surrounded by heathen nations and then in captivity, they were immersed in idolatry and astrology. But, God reminded them to not learn the heathen ways—in other words, not to associate and adopt these pagan festivities. This verse in Jeremiah mentions the signs of heaven—clearly implying solar, lunar, or astrological phenomena. Wouldn’t the vernal equinox be one such event—a way of the heathen? If so, then what does Paul tell us we should do? “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11).

Instead, how are we to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection?

The purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection was to save fallen mankind from their bondage to sin. We are made new creatures in Christ and are to live in Him. The ordinance by which we are to celebrate this transformation is baptism. Christ himself gave us an example that we should follow in His footsteps. Baptism represents death to self and the beginning of new life—that is, new life in Him. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3, 4). [Emphasis supplied.]

So, if you want to honor Jesus’ resurrection, make a solemn commitment to live for Him by publicly renouncing the world and pledging your allegiance to Christ—by baptism. As you rise from the watery grave, continue to celebrate the fact that He is risen by clinging to Him as your personal Saviour, living the life He guides you to live, and continuing in the faith until we all meet our resurrected Lord on the “sea of glass” and may sing the song of our redemption—the song of Moses and the Lamb.