Easter Traditions and Origins
Easter traditions and symbols are abundant. But what are the origins of these Easter traditions? Learn the history of Easter traditions here.
The Easter Season
Easter is not only a holiday but a season unto itself. To many religious people, it marks a time of miracles and a reaffirming of faith. To those with a more secular view of the world, it is a celebration of the end of winter, a time to look toward the warmth of the coming summer and a chance to shed the heavy, dour clothing of the winter for the bright colors of spring.
Easter traditions and symbols are well known: the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs and Easter baskets have become hallmarks of this spring festival. Yet there is more to them than meets the eye. Let us examine these and other Easter traditions and symbols and see just how our modern day version of the Easter holiday developed and from where.
Origin and Traditions
Long before Easter became the holiday it is today, the spring festival was celebrated by the people around the world. Although associated with the sun and the Vernal Equinox, the celebration was originally based on the lunar calendar. The name Easter is derived from the Saxon Eostre (which is synonymous with the name of the Phoenician Goddess of the Moon, Astarte), a Germanic goddess of spring and the deity who measured time.
Curiously, a Jewish festival, Purim, also celebrated in the spring, has as it central character and heroine, Esther who, as queen, kept the evil Haman from killing her people. Even the very word moon derives from the Sanskrit mas or ma, meaning "to measure."
Many scholars have suggested that the reason that the moon was chosen by the ancients as the way to measure time was the link between the female cycle and the cycle of the moon. A lunar month of 28 days gave 13 periods in 364 days, which was the solar equivalent of 52 weeks. The ancient Hebrews had long followed a lunar calendar, as had most other ancient cultures. Thus humans could match their natural lives with the nature of the night sky above them.
As Christianity grew and spread throughout the world, it was common practice to adopt, modify, convert or take over existing non-Christian festivals, sacred locations and even names, and assimilate them into the Christian theology. The Romans used this method of cultural absorption for centuries as a way of expanding and firming up the Empire. Given the fact that Christianity had its roots in Roman ways, it is not surprising that the same technique was used to spread belief in Christ.
The best example of this was in ancient Britain where the bearers of the Cross built their churches and monasteries on the very sites where far more ancient rites had been held.
Because Eostre, also know as Ostara, 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.
The connection between Christ's Resurrection and Jewish Passover, which, in addition to the dramatic story of the flight from Egypt, also contains elements of a spring celebration, made the merging of the two religious traditions easily accomplished.