Spring Equinox and the Origins of Easter

Easter, as we know is a very significant day for people of the Christian faith. Easter is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we have learned with other Christian holidays—oftentimes more than one tradition is followed.

Modern-day Easter is derived from two ancient traditions: one Judeo-Christian and the other Pagan. Both Christians and Pagans have celebrated death and resurrection themes following the Spring Equinox for millennia. Most religious historians believe that many elements of the Christian observance of Easter were derived from earlier Pagan celebrations.

The equinox occurs each year on March 20, 21 or 22. Both Neopagans and Christians continue to celebrate religious rituals linked to the equinox. Wiccans and other Neopagans usually hold their celebrations on the day or eve of the equinox. Western Christians celebrate Easter on the Sunday on or after the full moon that follows the nominal date of the Equinox — MAR-21. The Eastern Orthodox churches follow a different calculation; their Easter celebration is often many weeks after the date selected by the Western churches.

The meaning of the many different customs observed during Easter Sunday have been buried with time. Their origins lie in both pre-Christian religions and Christianity. In one way or another all the customs are a “salute to spring” marking re-birth. The white Easter lily has come to capture the glory of the holiday. The word “Easter” is named after Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. A festival was held in her honor every year at the vernal equinox.

People celebrate Easter according to their beliefs and their religious denominations. Christians commemorate Good Friday as the day that Jesus Christ died and Easter Sunday as the day that He was resurrected. Protestant settlers brought the custom of a sunrise service, a religious gathering at dawn, to the United States.

Origins of the name “Easter”
The name “Easter” originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God…. Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). …Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: “eastre.” Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were:
Aphrodite from ancient Cyprus
Ashtoreth from ancient Israel
Astarte from ancient Greece
Demeter from Mycenae
Hathor from ancient Egypt
Ishtar from Assyria
Kali, from India
Ostara a Norse Goddess of fertility.

Pagan origins of Easter
Many, perhaps most, Pagan religions in the Mediterranean area had a major seasonal day of religious celebration at or following the Spring Equinox. Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, had a consort, Attis, who was believed to have been born via a virgin birth. Attis was believed to have died and been resurrected each year during the period MAR-22 to MAR-25. Wherever Christian worship of Jesus and Pagan worship of Attis were active in the same geographical area in ancient times, Christians: “…used to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on the same date; and pagans and Christians used to quarrel bitterly about which of their gods was the true prototype and which the imitation.”

Many religious historians and liberal theologians believe that the death and resurrection legends were first associated with Attis, many centuries before the birth of Jesus. They were simply grafted onto stories of Jesus’ life in order to make Christian theology more acceptable to Pagans. Others suggest that many of the events in Jesus’ life that were recorded in the gospels were lifted from the life of Krishna, the second person of the Hindu Trinity. Modern-day Christians generally regard the Attis legend as being a Pagan myth of little value with no connection to Jesus. They regard Jesus’ death and resurrection account as being true, and unrelated to the earlier tradition.

Judeo-Christian origins of Easter
A very common theme present in many ancient Pagan religions described the life of a man-god — a savior of humanity — his execution, his visit to the underworld, his resurrection after two or three days, and his ascension to heaven. The life of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) as recorded in the Gospels includes the Christian version of this theme. Good Friday is observed in remembrance of Jesus’ execution by the occupying Roman army, and his burial in a cave-tomb. Easter Sunday is the date when a group of his female followers first noticed the empty tomb, and concluded that he had either been resurrected, or his body had been stolen.

The timing of the Christian celebration of Easter is linked to the Jewish celebration of the Passover. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were observed by the ancient Israelites early in each new year. (The Jewish people followed the Persian/Babylonian calendar and started each year with the Spring Equinox circa MAR-21). “Equinox” means “equal night;” on that date of the year, the night and day are approximately equal. The name “Passover” was derived from the actions of the angel of death as described in the book of Exodus. The angel “passed over” the homes of the Jews which were marked with the blood obtained from a ritual animal sacrifice.

Overview
Religious folks around the world observe many seasonal days of celebration during March and April. Most are religious holy days, and are linked in some way to the spring equinox (a.k.a. vernal equinox) in the Northern hemisphere. On that day, the daytime and nighttime hours are approximately equal — each being very close to 12 hours long. The word “equinox” comes from Latin and means “equal night.” Linkages between the equinox, Pagan celebrations & Easter: Many, perhaps most, Pagan religions in the ancient Mediterranean region had a major seasonal day of religious celebration at, or following, the spring equinox.

What is the True Meaning of Easter?
The Easter we celebrate today is a curious blend of the religious and the secular; of paganism, Judaism and Christianity. Some say the word Easter is derived from Eostre (also known as Ostara), an ancient Anglo-Saxon Goddess. (As mentioned) She symbolized the rebirth of the day at dawn and the rebirth of life in the spring. The arrival of spring was celebrated all over the world long before the religious meaning became associated with Easter. As Christianity grew and spread throughout the world, it was common practice to adopt and modify existing non-Christian festivals and assimilate them into the Christian theology. Because Eostre was the goddess of spring and her symbolism dealt with renewal and rebirth, the Christian belief in the resurrection of Christ fit well with these themes. In every other language but English and German, the name Easter is derived from the Hebrew word pesach for ‘he passed over’, so in Spanish and Italian Easter is Pascua, in French it is Paques, in Portugese it is Pascoa, and so on. Since church proclamation in 325AD, Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the Vernal Equinox. This date was determined by noting that the Last Supper, as Christians came to know it, was actually a Passover seder, and Jesus’s resurrection occured on that Sunday.

So who is this man?
He had a humble birth before three shepherds. His followers called him the Son of God, and the Light of the World, but he referred to himself as the Son of Man. He taught that man did not come to God with animal sacrifices, but by a personal relationship through prayer.
His followers celebrate his birth on 25th December.
He died at Easter. On the third day he was resurrected, and ascended bodily into heaven.

Who is he??
If you lived in Egypt, you would have called him Osiris. The ancient Greeks named him Dionysus. He was named Attis in Asia Minor. In Syria, he was called Adonis. Bacchus was his name in ancient Italy. If you lived in Persia four thousand years ago, you would have called him Mithras. Many religious historians believe that the death and resurrection legends were first associated with Attis (Osiris /Dionysus /Mithras, etc.) many centuries before the birth of Jesus.

Easter symbols and traditions again seem to be a blending of Pagan and Christian symbology. The egg and hare (bunny) were symbols of Ostara representing fertility and new life in the Spring. Since ancient times many cultures have associated eggs with the universe. They were used in ancient spring festivals to represent the rebirth of life. Dyed eggs also formed part of the rituals of the Babylonian mystery religions and in Egypt they were hung in temples as symbol of regenerative life. As Christianity took hold the egg began to symbolize the rebirth of man rather than nature. Christians of the Near East used the egg to symbolize the tomb from which Jesus broke forth. They were often colored red to represent the blood of Christ. The Easter tradition of rolling eggs is said to symbolize the rolling away of the rock from Jesus’ tomb.

The bunny as an Easter symbol seems to have its origins in Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings in the 1500s. In many parts of Germany the people believed the Easter bunny laid red eggs on Holy Thursday and multi-colored eggs the night before Easter Sunday. That’s where the first edible Easter Bunnies were made from pastry and sugar. When German settlers came to Pennsylvania Dutch country in the 1700’s they brought the custom with them. The children believed that if they were good the “Oschter Haws” would lay a nest of colored eggs.

Who is the Easter Bunny?
Today on Easter Sunday, many children wake up to find that the Easter Bunny has left them baskets of candy. He has also hidden the eggs that they decorated earlier that week. Children hunt for the eggs all around the house. Neighborhoods and organizations hold Easter egg hunts, and the child who finds the most eggs wins a prize….The Easter Bunny is a rabbit-spirit. Long ago, he was called the “Easter Hare”, hares and rabbits have frequent multiple births so they became a symbol of fertility. The custom of an Easter egg hunt began because children believed that hares laid eggs in the grass. The Romans believed that “All life comes from an egg.” Christians consider eggs to be “the seed of life” and so they are symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and Persia eggs were dyed for spring festivals. In medieval Europe, beautifully decorated eggs were given as gifts.

The Easter basket originates from the ancient Catholic custom of taking the food for Easter dinner to mass to be blessed. This, too, mirrored the even more ancient ritual of bringing the first crops and seedlings to the temple to insure a good growing season. This practice, combined with the “rabbit’s nest” of the Pennsylvania Dutch has evolved in the brightly colored containers filled with sweets, toys and the like left for children on Easter morning by the Easter Bunny.

Easter lilies are sometimes called the “white-robed apostles of hope,” because they were reportedly found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus’ sweat fell to the ground in his final hours. These same flowers have been long revered by Pagans of many lands as fertility symbols.

Eastertime is the spirit of rebirth, of continual life, of the love and message of Jesus that means more than whether any of this is historically true or not. If it is for you, God bless you, and if it’s not, God bless you, or Buddha bless you, or Krishna bless you… This whole world is so bogged down in dogma and needing everyone else to believe exactly like we do, that we miss the essence, the meaning inherent in all beliefs. And we’re killing each other in the process.

So–The true meaning of Easter? Find it within and celebrate it. Celebrate all expressions of joy however they manifest. Even if Easter has no meaning to you at all– just another day…Another day is the most beautiful of miracles. Celebrate every minute of it however you feel called to, and allow and rejoice in others however they feel called to celebrate theirs.

I hope that by learning about the different traditions that we follow you feel inspired to reconnect to its intended meanings and give greater honor to this time of year.

Information provided by: http://inventors.about.com/od/estartinventions/a/easter.htm
and http://www.religioustolerance.org/easter.htm

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