Today is Easter, and, as most people reading this know, it the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on the third day after his crucifixion.
It is the holist day of the Christian liturgical calendar and a day when most Christians, even those who normally eschew church-going, attend a morning service. A lot of Americans are “holly-lily” churchgoers (they show up at Christmas when there is holly in the church and at Easter when there are lilies around the altar), but this does not mean their faith is less sincere that that of regular service attenders. Easter and Christmas are simply times when a people feel moved to make a more public display of their faith.
Although a deeply meaningful time for Christians for the last 15 centuries or so, the traditions we think of as “ours” were grafted onto much older, pre-Christian celebrations. For one thing, Easter is nearly inextricable from the Jewish feast of Passover.
For another thing, there were a lot of other spring renewal festivals in other, pantheistic, pagan religions that people liked too well to just give up when they converted to Christianity. There is a persistent myth that Ishtar is the goddess behind our present-day Easter celebrations, but that is incorrect. We get the name “Easter” and the shtick of the bunnies and eggs from Eostre (also spelled Ostara), a Germanic and Anglo-Saxon goddess. Saint Bede wrote in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time that “during Ēosturmōnaþ (the equivalent of April), pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Eostre’s honor, but that this tradition had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.” Like MOST European goddesses of spring and/or fertility, Eostre could be represented by rabbits and eggs.
Neo-pagan and wiccan religions are experiencing a renewal across the West, and the goddesses are being revived in their more ancient forms again. Nonetheless, it has been more than 1000 years since Easter meant anything more than the resurrection of Jesus in Northern Europe; at this point Easter is as “naturally” Christian as any other holiday.
Easter for the Tudors was a joyous occasion for multiple reasons, both spiritual and mundane. One reason for glee (on a purely physical level) was that it marked the end of Lent and the revival of goodies in the diet. Profound feasting took place, often in large gatherings of family and friends with music and dancing, and with butter and eggs back on the menu – cake happened.
Most people eat a big family meal with lots of desserts on Easter in the present day, as well. When I was a kid the pride of the dessert table was a rabbit shaped Easter cake “furred” with white coconut shavings. I hate the texture of coconut shavings, thus I never partook of the spectacular cake my Aunt Joyce (it was always Aunt Joyce who made the cool cakes for holidays) had brought. I am still a little sorry for myself about it, to this day.
When Puritans controlled England they managed to suck nearly ever iota of pleasure out of Christian worship, and Easter was not spared the ravages of the killjoys. In fact, there are still some modern day “Puritans” who positively seethe at the thought of Christians celebrating such a pagan holiday:
If you want to be a Papist, then call yourself a Papist, or a Druid, or a Grecian worshipper of the devil. Don’t call yourself Christian by upholding a blatantly obvious demonic holy-day that God abhors. When you partake of such wicked schemes, God’s anger is aroused, and He states in Deuteronomy 32:17, “They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known.” When you give your child their Easter basket, recall God’s words, and heed the Psalmist in Psalm 106:37,“They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons.” Know that you serve the same blasphemies that Romanism has brought into Christendom, and that the Scriptures rightly warns the covenant people of God that they should abstain from such things and be separate.
In spite of its pagan roots, for the average Christian the holiday of Easter is a time to think about the hope of life after death, the continuation of life, and the emergence of spring warmth. I have to admit, though, that if children eat a whole, big bunch of candy from their Easter Baskets it CAN bring out some demonic behaviors. (Half-way through eating her chocolate bunny my then-six-year-old daughter began to levitate and bounce off the walls.) Nonetheless, chocolate does not involve a pact with the Devil prior to consumption, so I am okay with my children having some on Easter.
Peeps, however, are the work of Satan.
It is a rainy Easter for us this year, but the girls are wearing their flouncy dresses from church, have baskets full of candy, and there is no reason an Easter Egg hunt cannot be as much fun indoors, so today’s spring showers are more of a blessing than a problem. I hope everyone, whether you celebrate the holiday or not, enjoys their day and is surrounded by the things you love, just like me.