SHOULD CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE EASTER? IS IT NOT A PAGAN HOLIDAY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Some professing Christians believe that we should celebrate Easter because it commemorates Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Other professing Christians believe that we should not celebrate Easter because of its pagan (non-Christian) origins and elements. In this Bible study, we will evaluate Easter from the historical and Biblical perspectives, and let our readers come to their own conclusion as to what they should do about Easter.
ORIGIN OF EASTER
According to the “Easter” article of The World Book Encyclopedia:
“Easter is the most important Christian festival of the year…. The word Easter may have come from an early English word, Eastre. Some scholars say Eastre was the name of a pagan goddess of spring, the name of a spring festival, or the name of the season itself. Other scholars believe the word Easter comes from the early German word eostarun, which means dawn. This word may be an incorrect translation of the Latin word albae, meaning both dawn and white. Easter was considered a day of ‘white’ because newly baptized church members wore white clothes at Easter observances.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
The New Encyclopædia Britannica says under its article “Easter:”
“The English name Easter is of uncertain origin; the Anglo-Saxon priest Venerable Bede in the 8th century derived it from the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess Eostre…. By the time that the Christian liturgy had begun to take shape (2nd century), the Sunday Eucharist was preceded by a vigil service of Scripture readings and psalms. In this must be seen the origin of the Easter Vigil service, one of the striking celebrations of Easter in both East and West; from being a weekly observance the vigil has turned into an annual one at Easter only. As it is now constituted in the Roman Catholic missal, this vigil consists of the new fire (a practice introduced during the early Middle Ages); the lighting of the paschal candle; a service of lessons, called the prophecies; following by the blessing of the font and baptisms and then the mass of Easter. A similar form is used in Lutheran and some Anglican churches. This pattern is quite primitive and, in its principal elements, can be traced to the 3rd–4th century. … The connection of baptism with Easter is of early date. During the church’s first centuries the whole of Lent was not only a time of penance but also the period during which the catechumens (persons to be baptized) were prepared for baptism, which was given only once a year, at Easter. For the six weeks preceding Easter the catechumens were instructed in the Christian faith, and the texts of the Lenten liturgy in the Roman Catholic missal still preserve clear indications of this practice. The catechumenate came to an end with the solemn baptisms of the Easter vigil. This is the explanation of the present practice of the long ceremony of blessing the font on Easter night and of the great emphasis on baptism and its meaning and the many allusions to it still present in the Easter services…. Popular customs. Around the Christian observance of Easter as the climax of the liturgical drama of Holy Week and Good Friday, folk customs have been collected, many of which have been handed down from the ancient ceremonial and symbolism of European and Middle Eastern pagan spring festivals brought into relation with the resurrection theme. These customs have taken a variety of forms, in which, for example, eggs, formerly forbidden to be eaten during Lent, have been prominent as symbols of new life and resurrection. The hare, the symbol of fertility in ancient Egypt, a role that was kept later in Europe, is not found in North America.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
As you can easily see from these quotes from World Book and Britannica, the apostles did not institute Easter practices and customs such as Easter candle and fire burning, blessing of fonts and baptisms, and displays of eggs and rabbits (fertility deities—this is why the Playboy symbol is a rabbit!). The New Testament Scriptures are silent about the apostles instituting special practices and rituals during Easter. These activities existed within the professing “Christian” church in the 2nd century at the earliest and to as late as the 3rd and 4th century and the early Middle Ages—decades and even several centuries after the apostles died! As per Roman Catholic tradition, many Easter customs and practices are a “development of doctrine,” and they have no Scriptural support: the Britannica says the pagan activities were “brought into relation with the resurrection theme.” That is an elegant way of saying, “Non-Christian elements from non-Christian religions were adopted to celebrate the Christian doctrine of resurrection.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1909) elaborates for us in its “Easter” article (bold emphasis mine):
“The English term, according to the Ven. Bede (De temporum ratione, I, v), relates to Estre, a Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and spring, which deity, however, is otherwise unknown, even in the Edda (Simrock, Mythol., 362); Anglo-Saxon, eâster, eâstron; Old High German, ôstra, ôstrara, ôstrarûn; German, Ostern. April was called easter-monadh.”
“Easter eggs. Because the use of eggs was forbidden during Lent, they were brought to the table on Easter Day, coloured red to symbolize the Easter joy. This custom is found not only in the Latin but also in the Oriental Churches. The symbolic meaning of a new creation of mankind by Jesus risen from the dead was probably an invention of later times. The custom may have its origin in paganism, for a great many pagan customs, celebrating the return of spring, gravitated to Easter. The egg is the emblem of the germinating life of early spring. Easter eggs, the children are told, come from Rome with the bells which on Thursday go to Rome and return Saturday morning.”
“The Easter Rabbit. The Easter Rabbit lays the eggs, for which reason they are hidden in a nest or in the garden. The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility” (Simrock, Mythologie, 551).
“The Easter Fire. The Easter Fire is lit on the top of mountains (Easter mountain, Osterberg) and must be kindled from new fire, drawn from wood by friction (nodfyr); this is a custom of pagan origin in vogue all over Europe, signifying the victory of spring over winter. … The bishops issued severe edicts against the sacrilegious Easter fires (Conc. Germanicum, a. 742, c.v.; Council of Lestines, a. 743, n. 15), but did not succeed in abolishing them everywhere. The Church adopted the observance into the Easter ceremonies, referring it to the fiery column in the desert and to the Resurrection of Christ; the new fire on Holy Saturday is drawn from flint, symbolizing the Resurrection of the Light of the World from the tomb closed by a stone (Missale Rom.).”
Holweck, F. (1909). Easter. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from New Advent: < http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05224d.htm >
In his classic The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop wrote:
“Then look at Easter. What means the term Easter itself? It is not a Christian name. It bears its Chaldean origin on its very forehead. Easter is nothing else than Astarte, one of the titles of Beltis, the queen of heaven, whose name, as pronounced by the people Nineveh, was evidently identical with that now in common use in this country. That name, aas found by Layard on the Assyrian monuments, is Ishtar. The worship of Bel and Astarte was very early introduced into Britain, along with the Druids, “the priests of the groves.” Some have imagined that the Druidical worship was first introduced by the Phoenicians, who, centuries before the Christian era, traded to the tin-mines of Cornwall. But the unequivocal traces of that worship are found in regions of the British islands where the Phoenicians never penetrated, and it has everywhere left indelible marks of the strong hold which it must have had on the early British mind. From Bel, the 1st of May is still called Beltane in the Almanac; and we have customs still lingering at this day among us, which prove how exactly the worship of Bel or Moloch (for both titles belonged to the same god) had been observed even in the northern parts of this island. “The late Lady Baird, of Fern Tower, in Perthshire,” says a writer in “Notes and Queries,” thoroughly versed in British antiquities, “told me, that every year, at Beltane (or the 1st of May), a number of men and women assemble at an ancient Druidical circle of stones on her property near Crieff. They light a fire in the centre, each person puts a bit of oat-cake in a shepherd’s bonnet; they all sit down, and draw blindfold a piece from the bonnet. One piece has been previously blackened, and whoever gets that piece has to jump through the fire in the centre of the circle, and pay a forfeit. This is, in fact, a part of the ancient worship of Baal, and the person on whom the lot fell was previously burnt as a sacrifice. Now, the passing through the fire represents that, and the payment of the forfeit redeems the victim.” If Baal was thus worshipped in Britain, it will not be difficult to believe that his consort Astarte was also adored by our ancestors, and that from Astarte, whose name in Nineveh was Ishtar, the religious solemnities of April, as now practised, are called by the name of Easter—that month, among our Pagan ancestors, having been called Easter-monath. The festival, of which we read in Church history, under the name of Easter, in the third or fourth centuries, was quite a different festival from that now observed in the Romish Church, and at that time was not known by any such name as Easter. It was called Pasch, or the Passover, and though not of Apostolic institution,* was very early observed by many professing Christians, in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ.” (pages 103–104, Bold emphasis mine.)
While much more could be said regarding the above quotes, suffice it to say that Easter practices certainly have roots in false religion, and much of what is called “Easter worship” is nothing more than the carryover of superstitious practices that non-Christians followed centuries and millennia ago. These pagan practices have a godly appearance—they have been “Christianized”—but they have no relation to the God of the Bible and no association with Jesus Christ. The only mention of Easter in the Holy Bible—the King James Bible—is Acts 12:4, and it refers to a pagan Roman King Herod Agrippa I observing it (near the time of Passover).
Why there is so much confusion about pagan practices and Christian practices is simple to explain. Satan is the master counterfeiter: from Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures reveal how the devil schemes to “be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:14). Whatever God does, Satan defiles that work by introducing false doctrine, distracts mankind from God’s truth by mimicking His actions, discourages God’s people from His ministry by using incorrect thinking patterns, and so on. Why? Satan wants the worship that God alone deserves (Matthew 4:8-10; Luke 4:5-8).
Consider Christmastime. Centuries before Christ, Satan had pagans worshipping the birth of the sun god in early winter—near the date that Jesus Christ (God the Son) took upon human flesh in the virgin Mary’s womb! Now, consider Eastertime. Centuries before Christ, Satan had pagans worshipping fertility deities and new life in early spring, near the date that Jesus Christ (God the Son) died for our sins and resurrected victoriously over sin, death, hell, and Satan to give us new life! (To Satan’s delight, today’s average church member is not mindful of relevant sound Bible doctrine during Christmastime and Eastertime—the devil’s distractions have never lost their efficacy!)
Let us take a few moments to briefly summarize Passover.
ORIGIN OF PASSOVER
Any person familiar with the Bible knows of Israel’s first Passover, held just before JEHOVAH God delivered the Jews from Egyptian bondage (see Exodus chapter 12 for details). In Exodus 12:1-2, we read: “ And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying,  This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.”
The first month on Israel’s religious calendar is what the Bible calls the month of “Abib” (Exodus 13:4; Exodus 23:14; Exodus 34:18; Deuteronomy 16:1)—it was also called “Nisan” (Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7). In Exodus 12:6-14, JEHOVAH instructed the Jews to pen up the Passover lamb on Abib 10th, to check and make sure that it was not sick or crippled, and the Jews were to kill the Passover lamb on Abib 14th (roughly equivalent to April 14th in our Gregorian calendar). This lamb’s blood was then applied to the side posts and lintel of the door of every Jewish home in Egypt. God would kill all of the Egyptians’ firstborn, but He would “pass over” and spare the Jews who had the lamb’s blood on the door. In Israel’s program, Passover is “an ordinance for ever” (Exodus 12:14).
Through the annual Passover observance, God was teaching Israel that blood had to be shed in order to redeem her, or buy her back. Israel was trapped, not only under Egyptian rule, but Satan’s rule (domination of sin)—many times the Bible calls Egypt “the house of bondage” (Exodus 13:3,14; Exodus 20:2; et al.). The Jews were slaves to Egypt and to sin, and could not function as the nation God designed them to be. The blood of the Passover lamb was a preview of what Jesus Christ would do at Calvary many centuries in the future. The Apostle Peter reminded Israel in 1 Peter 1:18-19: “ Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;  But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
When Israel celebrated her new life on the other side of the Red Sea, a life as a free people, the pagans were celebrating the new life associated with Easter (Satan’s counterfeit religious system). Easter was Satan’s way of mocking Passover: again, Satan is the master counterfeiter, and as long as he can distract you from God’s Word to you, he is very pleased with himself (Satan gets the glory and worship when the God of the Bible does not). March-April was the time when God shed blood for Israel’s redemption, and when He gave her new life (after she crossed the Red Sea).
From the Four Gospels, we learn that Jesus Christ died around Passover (Matthew 26:2,17-19; Mark 14:1,12-16; Luke 22:18,11,13,15; John 11:55; John 12:1; John 13:1; John 18:28,39; John 19:14). In other words, Jesus died during the same holiday that had typified His death for the last 1,500 years. The blood of the true Passover lamb—Jesus Christ—was shed at Calvary. With the death of Jesus Christ at that time of year, March-April was that much more appealing to Satan to further corrupt.
During the centuries following the apostles’ deaths, the pagan festival Easter that had counterfeited Israel’s Passover gradually began to merge as Christianity was paganized to welcome new converts. Hence, today, the non-Christian and Christian elements of the Easter-Passover season have blended into one celebration within Christendom (just what Satan wanted from the beginning!). While it is often assumed that Easter celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection, it actually was never intended to do so. Still, very few church members even know the difference between Passover and Easter. A quote from The Catechism of the Catholic Church demonstrates how Christendom has greatly confused these two holidays:
“At the Council of Nicaea in 325, all the Churches agreed that Easter, the Christian Passover, should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon (14 Nisan) after the vernal equinox. Because of different methods of calculating the 14th day of the month of Nisan, the date of Easter in the Western and Eastern Churches is not always the same. For this reason, the Churches are currently seeking an agreement in order once again to celebrate the day of the Lord’s Resurrection on a common date” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, paragraph 1170). (Bold emphasis mine.)
How could we possibly confuse Passover, a Biblical holiday, and Easter, a non-Biblical holiday? How can we call Easter “the Christian Passover?” Again, you can see just how paganized Christianity has become over the centuries since the apostles; what was once non-Christian is now considered “Christian” and what was once Christian is now considered “non-Christian.” How more deceived can the professing Body of Christ get? What do we expect when we throw away God’s Word, the Holy Bible, and embrace the traditions of men?
WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN TO DO?
Our purpose here has been to enlighten you about Easter so that you can make an informed decision. It is certainly not our goal to “have dominion over your faith;” our desire is to be “helpers of your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). We will not dictate to you what you can and cannot do regarding Easter, but we do offer this study for your consideration. Our goal is to have your faith rest in an intelligent understanding of God’s Word, so that you may have joy and peace in believing God’s Word (Romans 15:13).
JEHOVAH, the God of the Bible, instituted in Israel a festival, Passover (the killing of a spotless lamb and its bloodshed in early spring), while they were still in Egypt (Exodus chapter 12). Passover’s annual observance reminded them of JEHOVAH delivering them from Egyptian slavery unto new life. Israel did not understand its meaning until 1,500 years later. The true Passover lamb, Jesus Christ, died and shed His sinless blood during that annual Passover feast (early spring), and He resurrected in new life to give them spiritual life and liberty. It was during this time of year that lost mankind—the nations of the world, those under Satan’s influence—celebrated fertility, reproduction, and new life by praising manmade idols and participating in shameful and ungodly activities. Easter and Passover should certainly not be confused.
As with the case of Christmas, Easter has both good and bad elements: we do not have to avoid either holiday altogether. Yes, the pagans may have “hijacked” this time of year for the devil’s glory, but we can disregard their ignorance: spring is God’s season for new life. We can still use this season to bring the God of the Bible glory by remembering that He has given us physical life, and He offers us new life (that is, spiritual life) through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection! March-April was indeed the time of year when Israel was released from Satanic and Egyptian bondage, and March-April was the time of year when Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day for our justification (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). We can trust Him alone and pass from eternal death to eternal life.
If we do choose to “celebrate” (for lack of a better word) Easter, we should remember not to be get distracted by the eggs, rabbits, denominational rites and rituals, and so on. Let us use this time of year—a time when people are most open to “spiritual things”—to share the wonderful news of the new life we have in Christ, and the new life that they can have in Jesus Christ, too, if they trust Him alone as their personal Saviour. This is the wonderful Gospel of the Grace of God, and it alone is the life-giving message that lost people need to hear—at Eastertime and every other time!
NOTE: My own research about Easter yielded too much information to be reproduced in its entirety here. The reader is greatly encouraged to search the internet to learn more about Easter’s very complex history, and not take this author’s word for anything.
» Was Jesus Christ really crucified on Friday?
» Should Christians observe Passover?
» Is “Easter” a mistranslation in the King James Bible in Acts 12:4?