Easter, along with Christmas, is one of the two most significant holidays celebrated by Christians and in Christian churches. All across the Des Moines metro area, churches are hanging up signs promoting their Easter services and events, and you may have received an invitation or two in the mail from a local church inviting you to celebrate Easter with them. On top of all of that, Easter is a holiday filled with chocolate candy, fuzzy bunnies, baskets overflowing with pastel grass, and the perfectly cooked spiral ham. But where did Easter come from and what makes it such a big deal to Christians?
THE ORIGINS OF EASTER
The origin of Easter, a holiday associated with the observance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is actually based on an ancient pagan celebration.
The origin of Easter dates back to ancient times. Nimrod, a grandson of Noah, had turned from following his grandfather's God and had become a tyrannical ruler. According to the biblical record, as king, Nimrod created Babel, Ninevah, Asshur, Calla and other cities, all known for lifestyles that promoted unspeakable evil and perversion. When Nimrod died, his wife, Queen Semiramis, deified him as the Sun-god, or Life Giver. Later he would become known as Baal, and those who followed the religion Semiramis created in his name would be called Baal worshippers. They became associated with idolatry, demon worship, human sacrifice and other practices regarded as evil.
The origin of Easter involves the birth of Semiramis' illegitimate son, Tammuz. Somehow, Semiramis convinced the people that Tammuz was actually Nimrod reborn. Since people had been looking for the promised savior since the beginning of mankind (see Genesis 3:15), they were persuaded by Semiramis to believe that Tammuz was that savior, even that he had been supernaturally conceived. Before long, in addition to worshiping Tammuz (or Nimrod reborn), the people also worshiped Semiramis herself as the goddess of fertility. In other cultures, she has been called Ishtar, Ashtur and yes, Easter.
SO HOW DID EASTER BECOME THE TIME CHRISTIANS CELEBRATED JESUS’ RESURRECTION?
For Christians, the origin of Easter is simply the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ about 2,000 years ago. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus Christ, the true Messiah promised in the Old Testament, was crucified and resurrected at the time of the Jewish Passover. Since that awesome event took place, those who believe Christ is their Messiah have honored that day and often celebrated it with the traditional Passover. As the Gospel of Christ spread throughout non-jewish nations, among people who did not have a history of celebrating the Passover, the pagan rites of Easter gradually became assimilated into what the Christian church called "Resurrection Day." Actually, American history teaches us that Easter was dismissed as a pagan holiday by the nation's founding Puritans and did not begin to be widely observed until just after the Civil War.
In short, Christians began to resist the pagan rites of Easter by choosing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus instead.
WHAT DO BUNNIES AND EGGS HAVE TO DO WITH EASTER?
Many of the pagan customs associated with the celebration of spring eventually became absorbed within Christianity as symbols of the resurrection of Jesus.
During the Middle Ages, people began decorating eggs and eating them as a treat following mass on Easter Sunday after fasting through Lent. This is actually something that still happens, especially in eastern European countries like Poland. The custom of decorating hard-boiled eggs or blown eggs is still a very popular folk custom.
Rabbits and hares are also associated with fertility and were symbols linked to the goddess Eostre (Easter). The first association of the rabbit with Easter was a mention of the "Easter hare" in a book by German professor of medicine Georg Franck von Franckenau published in 1722. He recalls a folklore that hares would hide the colored eggs that children hunted for, which suggests to us that as early as the 18th century, decorated eggs were hidden in gardens for egg hunts.
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EASTER FOR CHRISTIANS?
Easter, for the Christian, is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. That event, and the belief that it took place, is the foundation for all of the Christian faith. When Jesus died on the cross, that was a great sacrifice, as Jesus paid the price for humanity’s sin. But it is His resurrection, dying and then coming back to life three days later, that demonstrates His power over sin and death.
Quite simply, if the resurrection never happened, then Jesus is not who He claimed to be. And if that is true, the Christian faith is false and misguided. The Apostle Paul, one of the most significant leaders of the early church and author of almost half of the letters in the New Testament, said it this way:
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” – 1 Corinthians 15:13-19
So the resurrection is vital and foundational to the faith of the Christian. Without it, Christ is a wise teacher and a sacrificial leader, but He’s not God. If that’s true, the Bible isn’t. And the church is useless (Paul’s words). Jesus isn’t real or true because the Bible or the church says so. The Bible has meaning and the church matters because of Jesus.
If you have questions that aren’t answered in this article, or new questions that were raised, you can send us an email and we will do our best to answer them – we’d love to have that conversation.
To find out more about Easter at Journey, you can check out this page with the details.