Easter is the most important event in the Christian calendar, as it reflects the resurrection (and thus salvation offered) by Christ for all those who accept him. While this is true to many Christians today, the story of Easter is complex and it is a period of celebration that is very ancient, having origins from pre-Christian periods. As with many other holidays, the early Catholic church often combined pre-Christian traditions and Christian ideals to make it easier for conversion and facilitate the rise of Christianity.
While there is no universal agreement, the term Easter may derive from the goddess Eostre, who is the goddess of spring and often associated with fertility in Germanic and Norse traditions. Traditionally, the spring equinox, when darkness and day are the same amount of time, was seen as a holy period that signified the coming time of plenty and the agricultural cycle. It is possible the goddess may connect to the ancient Near East, where the goddess Ishtar also had associations with fertility and was celebrated at about the same time as Eostre was. Eostre was also associated with rabbits and hares, which seem to be retained as symbols for Easter, where in the pre-Christian tradition rabbits and hares symbolized new life, as these creatures reappeared after winter.
Similarly, Christianity used these symbols of life in relation to the life that Jesus gave his followers. Using eggs as symbols of life and fertility is not only an ancient pre-Christian tradition, retained in the holiday celebrations today, but perhaps even hiding eggs for children to find may have already been done by pre-Christian societies in parts of Europe.
Categories: History of Religion