I am not a religious studies scholar but I am always curious about the traditional holidays that are celebrated in so many religions and in particular Christianity because that is the faith I was brought up in as a child.
Easter is similar to other traditional Christian holidays which have grown over the centuries with many evolving and blending together from both Paganism and Christianity.
Most major holidays in the Christian calendar are connected to the changing of seasons. This we can particularly see with Christmas because nowhere in the New Testament does it say when Jesus was actually born. However, many scholars believe that the main reason that his birth is celebrated on the 25th of December, is because it was the date of the winter solstice according to the Roman calendar. That is when days start becoming longer and less dark, thereby symbolising his birth as “the light of the world” as written in the New Testament’s Gospel of John.
Easter falls close to the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere when day and night (light and dark) become equal greeted with great excitement by many because it means the cold weather of winter is hopefully over. It also means the birth of new life in the animal world as well as the regrowth of dormant plants and trees from winter . Given this symbolisim of new life and rebirth, it aligns to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus at this time of year.
The name “Easter” seems to relate to the name of a Goddess in ancient times in England called, Eostore, and she was celebrated in the early spring by the Pagans. From the writings of a English Monk, Venerable Bede, wrote:
“The month in which English Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus had been called Eosturmonath in Old English, referring to a goddess named Eostre. And even though Christians had begun affirming the Christian meaning of the celebration, they continued to use the name of the goddess to designate the season.”
The name stuck, but we cannot forget the connection of Easter to the Jewish Passover or “Pesach”. In the Hebrew scriptures, the Book of Exodus, Pesach is a festival celebrating the freedom of the Israelites after nearly 500 years of slavery in Egypt. Passover, at the time of Jesus, had a special significance as once again the Israelites were being dominated by another power, namely the Romans. Many pilgrims flocked to Jerusalem during Passover in the hope that they would be liberated once again and in this particular year (estimated to be around AD30), Jesus with his disciples entered the city with great fanfare causing a disturbance at the Temple of Jerusalem. This disturbance also attracted the attention of the Romans, resulting in Jesus being executed. His body was laid to rest following his death by his followers, with many believing that Jesus came back to life three days after he died on the cross, as in The Gospel of Luke (24:1–9).
Following this event early Christians felt it was logical to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in alignment with Passover because he had died over this holiday. However, at the Council of Nicea in AD 325, the council agreed, after they recognised Christ as “fully human and divine”, that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring Equinox.
In the 17th Century, the holiday started to include Easter eggs and the Easter bunny, although decorated eggs had been part of the Easter festival since medieval times as a symbol of new life. Around this time, the tradition of eggs being delivered to ‘good children’ by the Easter bunny was started in America.
The first chocolate Easter eggs were made in Europe in the early 19th Century with France and Germany taking the lead in this new artistic confectionery. John Cadbury made the first “French eating Chocolate” in 1842 allowing us to enjoy beautifully crafted and very tasty milk chocolate Easter Eggs!