THE Easter holiday is a major highlight on every year’s calendar, with millions of Christians all over the world observing it.
Over the years many churches have been seen to plan their major conferences and special services round about this time.
It is a time when church activity is at its hyper; baptisms, confirmations, soul winning crusades, all night prayers, the Cross/Jesus plays and musical concerts.
In essence, is this Christian holiday a Biblical phenomena or it rather bears its origins in paganism? Is it true that contrary to popular belief, Easter does not represent the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
What is Easter?
According to Christian tradition, it is a four-day holiday to remember and celebrate Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
Perhaps if this was all there was to this Christian holiday, it would be an unquestionable noble holiday indeed. There would be nothing questionable about Christians celebrating the finished work at Calvary; the Bible encourages believers to do just that!
However, the story does not quite end there. Let’s take a close look at why there is the on -going controversy about the holiday being of pagan origin. According to the Venerable Bede (673-735), an English monk who wrote the first “History of Christianity in England”, the term “Easter” was derived from the name of an Ancient Germanic Pagan Goddess “Eostre”.
The month of April was known as “Eosturmonath”, a name which is now translated “Paschal month”. It was called after the goddess Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Eostre was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similar goddesses in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean included; Ashtoreth from Ancient Israel, Astarte from Ancient Greece and Ishtar from Assyria. Now if Easter was named after a pagan goddess, does the name make the entire celebration pagan?
It appears there is more to the paganism associated with Easter than just its name. The date of Easter is not fixed, but instead governed by the phases of the moon – how pagan is that?
Further assertions seem to point to the fact that all the fun things about Easter are pagan.
The bunnies are a leftover from the pagan Festival of Eostre, whose symbol was a rabbit/hare. The exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures. Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament we see the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it.
The early church also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes baked on Easter. One might perhaps wonder if the Easter bunnies, eggs, fluffy chicks and simnel cakes are of any meaningful benefit to the Christian faith.
In essence the bulk of Easter products bear their origins in pagan feasts; Easter cards and gifts have no Christian consecration.
We definitely do not see any celebrations of Easter in the New Testament; but many churches today offer what they call “sunrise services” which are equivalent to a pagan solar celebration.
Most of the practices done at Easter by some churches are more a result of liturgical creativity than a Biblical instruction. One may therefore ask; if there are no scriptures pointing Christians to designing a holiday called Easter, how did Christians decide to coin this holiday?
Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection are of central significance to the Christian faith, thus with the inclusion of these major elements in this originally pagan holiday the entire festival became of critical significance to millions of Christians around the world.
Should Christians celebrate Easter?
This is perhaps one question that the church may not immediately answer with one voice. Already some churches neither acknowledge nor observe the Easter holiday. They rather celebrate the Passover, which they have substantial Biblical references to support.
The Passover (“Pascha” in Greek and “Pesach” in Hebrew) is the name of the yearly feast of Israel to commemorate their deliverance from the Angel of Death in Egypt (Exodus 12:11-14).
These churches openly frown at Easter.
Moreover most historians, including Biblical scholars, agree that although Easter is honoured by many contemporary Christians, it was originally a pagan festival.
Meanwhile, millions of Christians all over the world celebrate the Easter holiday. Some people have introduced their own themes for the holiday, with many families doing their traditional rituals at this time.
These include kurova makuva, memorial services, unveiling of tombstones, lobola payment and weddings.
There is also the domineering spirit of over-indulgence as experienced at Christmas, with people drinking their lives away and giving themselves to all forms of lustful desires!
Thus despite the assumed Christianisation of the Christmas and Easter holidays, the spirit of over indulgencies and drunkenness which was the norm with the pagan rituals seem to have lingered on. Sadly, the world realises major bloodshed with the rise in road carnage, as many people die in road accidents travelling during this holiday.
Some Christians ignore all pagan connotations about Easter and continue to bite the head off the bunny goddess, the pagan simnel cake, go for the sunrise service, get fluffy legged chicks and all the other pagan novelty Easter products.
It has also become a common sight to see some Church leaders cleansing and anointing these products for their members. The Bible gives enough encouragement for believers to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and with the consciousness induced by Easter holiday; many continue to see a grand opportunity to celebrate Christ at Easter.
As Easter approaches, perhaps it’s time to take a walk back into our Christian Faith, and revisit our presuppositions and beliefs about the entire Easter celebrations!
Pr Nyarambi is the founder of Faith Christian Media Centre.