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Home > Article Library > Miscellaneous > Christianity Stole Easter! Search

Christianity Stole Easter from Pagan Religions!
by Koi


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Easter is actually one of the most originally and totally Christian festivals on the Christian calendar. If it's lifted from anyone, it's lifted from the Jews (but even there, only in part).

The perception that Easter is lifted from a Norse or Celtic celebration dealing with Oester is a very common one, and owes its life to the "name the same" game that people often play ... if the words sound the same, they must be the same. Moreover, in this situation, the word "Easter" in English does indeed come from the word "Oester," which makes it even more confusing.

However, applying a little common sense to the situation and thinking through it will quickly show you that Easter is not lifted from the Oester celebration, but that it's a confluence of names that occurs because of a borrowed name - not a borrowed celebration - and translation difficulties.

Easter is actually one of the most originally and totally Christian festivals on the Christian calendar. If it's lifted from anyone, it's lifted from the Jews (but even there, only in part). It's generally only Pagans in English- and Germanic-speaking parts of the world that have this issue of wrongly assuming it's lifted from the festival of Oester, as explained below.

Easter is the earliest of the Christian celebrations, celebrated from the very dawn of the Church. I won't bore you with sourcing it out, as I'm sure you can picture how Jesus's resurrection was a sort of big holiday with the early Christians. There are various letters, some still extant, from one community to another discussing Easter celebrations in the first three centuries or so, as well as various "church fathers" writing about them in their treatises.

Easter is what's called a "moveable feast," as it is not set by the solar, Gregorian calendar like most feasts in the Christian calendar. Easter is set by the Jewish calendar, a luni-solar calendar, which means that it combines a lunar calendar with corrections for a solar year, so the month of Nisan, for example, is always in the season of Spring. (For Muslims, by contrast, the wholly lunar calendar ensures that Ramandan slowly wends its way around the solar year, so some years Ramadan is in the summer and some in the winter.)

The earliest Christians did set Easter according to the Jewish Passover. Jewish months were at that time observational - the new month began when the moon was physically sighted by a community leader or committee of leaders. When Jews and Christians began moving towards a definitive split between their communities, those leaders were less-eager to share their calendar with the Christians. When Jews went into diaspora, it became more difficult still, and Christians were slowly spreading all over the Eurasian landmass, making the quick communication required to set a festival by lunar sighting impossible. Jews now set their calendar not by observational but mathematical lunar calculations, so in theory Christians could go back to setting the date of Easter by the Jewish lunar calendar, but we have so many centuries of our current date setting method, which is to use the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox as the date of Easter, which allowed Christians all over the world to independently figure the date of this moveable feast, and ensures it falls fairly near to Passover every year.

You will recall, of course, that Jesus was betrayed by Judas during Passover, and that "The Last Supper" was in fact a Passover meal. So Easter's date - and the date of the Crucifixion - are linked to the Jewish festival of Passover - known as Pesach or Pesakh in Hebrew (depending on what Anglicized spelling of Hebrew you prefer).

Now, in the romance languages - Italian, Spanish, French, Romanian, and so forth - the word for Easter is "Pascalia" or "Pasqua" or some variation of that. It comes from the Latin word "Pascalis" which comes from the Greek "Pascha" which is a Hellenizaton of the Hebrew "Pesakh."

English, as you know, comes from an entirely different family of languages. By the time Christian missionaries arrived in Germany, England, Norway, or any of the countries where the word for Easter is related to the word "Easter," the holiday itself was well-established. However, "Pascalia" and "Pascalis" meant nothing at all in Old English or Old Norse, or whatnot. The missionaries did, in fact, introduce these words to English - paschal and even "Pasch" will appear in your dictionary and such words are common in early English-language Christian writings (and even much later). However, they didn't catch one. The Christian festival of Pascalis fell close to the spring festival, called different things in different places, and the common folk often called the Pascalis celebration by the same name as their more native equinox festival. Anyway, "Oester" is the one that generally caught on and stuck in Germanic-language countries.

However, of the Christian holidays, Easter is probably the one that remains the most uniquely Christian and the most devoid of outside practices. (Leaving eggs and bunnies aside, which remained folk practices alongside the religious practices but were never incorporated into Christian religious practices ... unlike, say, Christmas trees which were absorbed rather thoroughly into the religious practice. Also, if you go to, say, Spain and talk about eggs and bunnies being part of Easter, people would have looked at you funny before Hallmark invaded.)

This is probably the most common misconception that I run up against when dealing with Pagans and Christianity - the idea that Easter was set up to absorb the festival of Oester. (King James-related issues would run a close second.) Naw, the festival was pre-existing ... they just stole the name. If anybody's festival got stolen, it was the Jews' Passover festival, but even there, only in parts, as the unique event of, you know, crucifixion and alleged resurrection of the alleged Son of God surely is worthy of its own festival and the celebrations themselves focus little on Passover and a great deal on Jesus personally.

By the way ... if you're ever looking for a window on the past, check out a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox midnight Easter service sometime. These are some of the most ancient liturgies the churches possess, and it's rather amazing.

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