Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The origins of Easter

       Ask people in the western hemisphere what Easter means to them and many will think of chocolate eggs, new-born chicks, baby rabbits, a welcome weekend break and maybe a new outfit or two. Spiritually-minded individuals may also mention Christ’s resurrection, celebrated on Easter Sunday as one of the church’s most pivotal feasts. 
       Yet, far from being a Christian practice, Easter is a pagan festival with roots in ancient sex worship. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, “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. . . . The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility.”  
       The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible says Easter was “originally the spring festival in honour of the Teutonic goddess of the light and spring, known in Anglo-Saxon as Eastre or Eostre. There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers. The sanctity of special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians. . . . The ecclesiastical historian Socrates (Hist. Eccl. v. 22) states, with perfect truth, that neither the Lord nor his apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival . . . and he attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of an old usage, ‘just as many other customs have been established.’” 
       Another source, The Encyclopedia Americana, refers to the Venerable Bede, English historian of the early 8th century, in saying: “The word [Easter] is derived from the Norse Ostara or Eostre, meaning the festival of spring at the vernal equinox, March 21, when nature is in resurrection after winter. Hence, the rabbits, notable for their fecundity, and the eggs, colored like rays of the returning sun and the northern lights or aurora borealis.” 
      Eggs and rabbits feature strongly in Easter traditions, as both were viewed by ancient pagans as important symbols during their spring fertility rites. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, explains: “Children roll pasch eggs in England. Everywhere they hunt the many-colored Easter eggs, brought by the Easter rabbit. This is not mere child’s play, but the vestige of a fertility rite, the eggs and the rabbit both symbolizing fertility. Furthermore, the rabbit was the escort of the Germanic goddess Ostara who gave the name to the festival by way of the German Ostern.” 
       Significantly, the only event Jesus commanded his followers to observe was the Memorial of his death, the only event for which we have a date – Nisan 14, the Jewish Passover, which Jesus observed with his 11 faithful apostles. 
      As for Lent, the 40-day fast was meant to commemorate Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, yet Jesus never asked his disciples to observe this. The first mention of this period of sacrifice before Easter was in a letter by Athanasius dated 330 CE. Prior to this, fasting in the early part of the year was common among ancient Babylonians, Egyptians and Greeks.

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