The Pagan Roots of Easter

By | March 22, 2009

bunny1In the UK Christianity has come to dominate our understanding of Easter. However, Easter is historically diverse in its celebrations and origins, stemming from ancient cultures that predate Jesus and Christianity.

The celebration of Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent resurrection is the most important date in the Christian calendar. The date of Easter itself has been disputed throughout the centuries.

Despite efforts by the First Council of Nicaea, held in 325, to establish a fixed date for the celebrations, the date of Easter alters each year according to the lunisolar calendar. Christian churches now use 21st March as the starting point for determining the date of Easter; it is then calculated as the Sunday following the next full moon.

The word Easter itself comes from the Old English word Eostre or Eastre which was the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess. She was celebrated during the Spring Equinox, the time we now associate with the Easter period. To this day many Wiccans and Neopagans celebrate this time as one of their eight holy days of celebration, also known as Sabbats. Within these religions the Spring Equinox is generally a celebration of fertility, bound up in the growing of crops and the growing balance between night and day.

Pagan religions in the Mediterranean based their celebrations on a story very similar to that of Jesus and his resurrection. Attis, a figure of a mystery cult that appeared in Rome about 200 BC, was reported to have been born of a virgin impregnated by the fruits of an almond tree. He was believed to be reborn annually, and the celebrations began with a day of blood on what they called ‘Black Friday’ and continued over three days in which they rejoiced over his resurrection. The colour black has also been adopted in Christian celebrations as the symbol of Good Friday. …

The traditional Easter egg and Easter bunny can be traced back to antiquity as symbols of fertility. Rabbits and hares, or more specifically Lagomorphs, were symbolic particularly for their prolific breeding. The phrase ‘at it like rabbits’ serves to explain these ancient attitudes towards these animals.

via Easter: what does it mean? – Features – The Yorker.

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