Every couple years, I love to revisit the history of words like Easter…because yes, I’ve featured it twice before, but maybe you’re new here! Or maybe you don’t remember the history–I know I forget plenty of the words I’ve covered before! LOL

This one, however, has stuck with me…because its discovery was pretty important in our family. See, we’d just looked up the history of St. Nicholas to try to determine if Santa Claus ought to remain part of our family tradition…and what the kids and I learned was that St. Nick’s is a story of miracles, generosity, and deep faith. Something to emulate, for sure!

So a few months later, my daughter decided to write an essay for our homeschool on Easter. I had a suspicion she wasn’t going to like what she found, already knowing as I did that the English name for the holiday came from a pagan goddess, but I said, “Sure, have at it.” So she did. And she was genuinely upset at what she found. No stories of faith-filled saints here, that’s for sure!

First, let’s note that in most European languages, the word for this holiday in which we celebrate the resurrection of Christ is a variation of the Hebrew pasche, the word for Passover, which of course is the Jewish holiday that was going on when Jesus was crucified and then rose from the dead. And this has been kept even in English in some faith traditions that will talk about the Paschal Lamb, light the Paschal candle, and so on.

But when Anglo-Saxons were introduced to Christianity, they decided to call this important Christian feast by the same name they already used for the vernal equinox, since they historically coincide. Which meant was called Easter, after Eastre, the goddess of spring, whose feast day was celebrated then. Eastre wasn’t just the goddess of spring though–she was a magician, most remembered for turning a chicken into a rabbit…that still laid eggs. Sound familiar? This is, in fact, where the Easter Bunny tradition comes from.

Now, eggs do have a link back to Passover traditions too, don’t get me wrong. The egg itself has plenty of faith-filled symbolism, and even searching for items during the Paschal celebration has long roots in Judeo-Christianity (during seder meals, children hunt for the “missing” piece of bread that the adults have hidden for them, and a prize goes to whoever finds it).

Even so, you can’t escape that many of our modern English-speaking traditions have nothing to do with the Christian celebration of the day and everything to do with its ancient pagan roots.

The term “Easter Eggs” dates to 1824, and the modern tradition of the Easter Bunny is from 1909, both of which were informed by those early stories of the goddess Eastre. Easter Island is so named because it was discovered on Easter Monday.

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