Should Christians celebrate Easter?

Should Christians celebrate Easter?

bowl of easter eggsThe word “Easter” comes from the name of an ancient mother goddess, known as Eostre by the Saxons and Ostara by the Norse people of Scandinavia.

She was celebrated in the Spring and there is some evidence to suggest that she was actually the same deity as a fertility goddess, variously known around the Mediterranean as Astarte, Ashtoreth, Aphrodite or Ishtar. You’ll find her referred to in the Bible (see 1 Samuel 7 v 3 for example). It’s because of this connection that the traditional Easter celebrations are full of fertility symbols – eggs, chicks, rabbits and even chocolate, the food of love.

What’s all that got to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus? Good question! The answer is, “Nothing at all”. 

Jesus was crucified at the time of the Jewish Passover. The Passover is a lunar festival – always celebrated at a full moon. Because of this Christians remember the death and resurrection of Jesus on a date that relates approximately to the full moon (I say “approximately” because the mathematics and history are complicated). This festival also occurs in the Spring and ordinary people just kept on calling the festival “Easter” even after they’d given up on the old Saxon and Norse gods.

Samuel exhorted the Israelites, “Rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only.” Has that command got something to say to us as we face the celebration of Easter (=Ashtoreth) today? Why should Christians dishonour the most important celebration in the Christian year by giving it the name of a pagan goddess?

What about the eggs and bunnies and chicks? Are Christian nurseries and playgroups that decorate their walls with such symbols subjecting their little ones to unwholesome pagan influences? Shouldn’t Christians keep away from anything connected with pagan worship and superstition?  

I think we do have to be careful to keep Easter at arm’s length and to put the emphasis on the Christian aspects of the season. I always try to avoid using the name “Easter”, preferring to talk about “Holy week” and “Resurrection Sunday” instead.

I love chocolate but, by giving and receiving Easter eggs and eating them, am I creating a foothold in my life for demonic spirits to bring me into bondage? Maybe this is an issue where the apostle Paul’s teaching about food offered to idols comes into play “We are no worse if we do eat and no better if we do.” (1 Corinthians 8 v 8). In other words, you can enjoy your chocolate egg if you receive it as a gift from God, with a grateful heart and without paying any attention to its connection with Easter.

lambThere is one piece of symbolism that links the pagan Easter and the Christian Holy Week. Along with the seasonal rabbits and chicks in the Easter decorations you’ll usually find a few fluffy lambs.

When the Israelites made their exit from Egypt, God told each family to slaughter a lamb, to daub its blood on their doorposts and to cook and eat its meat standing up with their bags packed ready to leave. The blood of the lamb on their doorposts was a sign to the destroying angel to pass over them.

The New Testament describes Jesus as the “Lamb of God”. His perfect life and obedient death come between us and God and because of his sacrifice applied by faith to us, God can “pass over” us when it comes to the judgement and enable us to break out of our prison of guilt and enter into the freedom of forgiveness.

Some people see a link between Jesus breaking out of the tomb and chicks bursting out of their eggs. Personally, I think that comparison is just an artificial attempt to Christianise the pagan symbol. Nevertheless, the resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian festival. Not only do we commemorate the day when Jesus came alive again, his resurrection is also a foretaste of ours:

“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15 v 20 NIV).

As Christians we look forward to a day when all of us will share in a similar resurrection with a new body like his resurrection body:

“The dead will be raised imperishable and we who will be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye.” (1 Corinthans 15 v 51-52 NIV)

Something to celebrate indeed!

Michael Jobling

The photos iillustrating this article are accessed from Flickr.com under a Creative Commons Licence. Easter egg picture © copyright freefoto.co.uk, Lamb picture © copyright Roger Davies.