Easter 2017: Is Easter a Pagan Holiday?

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Children wearing masks walk in a street during “Bele Poklade” carnival celebrations in the village of Lozovik, south of the capital Belgrade, on February 22, 2015. “Bele Poklade” has its roots in old pagan customs and is marked annually seven weeks before Easter. Children walk through the village to collect eggs, and at the end jump over a fire to banish evil demons. (ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Today Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion on Good Friday. But many traditions associated with Easter like the Easter bunny and eggs aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Where do they come from?

Prior to Christianity, many ancient religions had myths and legends about the death and rebirth of gods and goddesses. Celebrations of these gods usually occurred in the springtime.

Hilaria was the ancient Roman religious festival celebrated on the March equinox to honor Cybele, the mother goddess, and her son/lover, Attis. Attis committed suicide by castrating himself right before his wedding to someone else. Cybele wanted to honor Attis’ life by ensuring that his corpse would never rot or decay. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Attis was fundamentally a vegetation god, and in his self-mutilation, death, and resurrection he represents the fruits of the earth, which die in winter only to rise again in the spring.”

Hilaria would later become associated with April Fools’ and is where we derive the word “hilarious” from.

Ancient gods and goddesses that took the forms of humans only to die and resurrect in the spring season include Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Tammuz, Dionysus, Ishtar, Persephone, and Bari.

The similarities don’t stop there. Other gods or messiah-like “saviors” were crucified on a cross or tree before ascending into heaven. According to Kersey Graves, author of The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors, these early Christs include familiar names like Krishna, Prometheus, and Quezalcoatl of Mexico.

The theory that Jesus was just a new name for an old story is called the “Christ myth theory.”

After Easter became established as a Christian holiday, the traditions and symbols of the pagans remained. Even the name of the holiday Easter is derived Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess associated with spring and fertility.

The Easter bunny can also be traced to Germany. According to History.com, it comes from an ancient Germanic tradition where an egg-laying rabbit called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws” would lay colorful eggs in nests made by children. The eggs represented new life and the rabbit was a symbol of fertility.

For Christians, the symbols have been reworked within a biblical framework. Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection.