How did “Easter” get its name and how is it related to Passover?

Most people do not realize that “Easter” originally had no association with Jesus Christ or Christianity. “Easter” has its roots in paganism. The word “Easter” was not mentioned in original Bible scripture. The first followers of Christ would have been Jewish observers of Passover. (See a brief video history of Easter by visiting History.com.)

Christian Easter celebrations and the Jewish Passover are linked by the symbolism of the two religious holidays and their position on the modern calendar. Jesus Christ is considered to be the final sacrifice for Christian believers, a symbolic sacrificial lamb for the atonement of all sin. In some European languages the feast called Easter in English is called Passover in those languages. In the older English versions of the Bible the term Easter was the term used to translate Passover. (View a brief History.com video that explains the Jewish Passover holiday.)

Reference books say the name “Easter” comes from “Eastre” (a.k.a. Eostre), a name for a pagan goddess of spring. There are several derivations of the name in various ancient cultures and languages. Like many other modern Christian holidays, the Easter celebration was merged into Christianity. Ancient Saxons celebrated spring by commemorating their goddess Eastre. When Christian missionaries came into contact with these pagan tribes and their celebrations, they decided to allow the celebrations to continue. The missionaries opted to spread Christianity in a more subtle way.

“As it happened, the pagan festival of Eastre occurred at the same time of year as the Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ. It made sense, therefore, to alter the festival itself, to make it a Christian observance as pagans were slowly indoctrinated. The early name, Eostre, was eventually changed to its modern spelling, Easter.”

Prior to A.D. 325, Easter was celebrated on different days of the week. In A.D. 325 Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea. This was the first effort to have consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. The Nicaean Council issued the Easter Rule which said that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurred after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.

Symbols like the Easter bunny originated with the pagan festival of Eastre. The rabbit was an earthly symbol of that goddess. Germans brought the symbol of the Easter rabbit to America. The Easter bunny was ignored by American Christians until right after the Civil War. The Easter holiday was not widely celebrated in America until after the Civil War.

The Easter egg also predates the Christian Easter celebration. The custom of exchanging eggs in the springtime was an old custom when Christians began celebrating Easter. Eggs were a symbol of fertility and birth in most cultures. Eggs were often dyed by boiling them with leaves or petals of flowers.

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