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The History of Easter

Mar 7, 2008
The Easter holiday is a spring-time celebration that makes us think about chocolate eggs, bunny rabbits, and for Christians, the glorious resurrection of Jesus. The Saxon goddess Eostre gave her name to "Easter"; other pagan cultures worshipped similar goddesses, who represented nature and fertility. The hare, or rabbit, often accompanied these goddesses, being a strong symbol of fertility.

And this is where the notion of the Easter Bunny comes from! Originally a spirit, it brought new life in eggs with it when it appeared in spring. Today someone dressed as Easter Bunny may be seen at a hunt for Easter eggs! Eggs were another symbol of new life and fertility, part of the pagan worship of the resurgence of life with the arrival of spring.

Historical records, including the Bible, tell us that Jesus was also crucified at this time of year, in the run up to the Jewish Passover festival. The date each year for Passover was, and still is, based on the Jewish calendar, which has different months than on the calendar we follow today in the western world.

About 350 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, at the Council of Nicaea, church leaders met to decide how the date for Easter was going to be calculated each year and whether Easter Day should always be on a Sunday, as this was the day of the resurrection, or whether it should always be just after Passover, even if that meant a weekday. It was decided that that Easter Day should be the first Sunday after the full moon that directly follows the Vernal Equinox.

Despite being named after a pagan goddess, Easter actually has much more in common with the Jewish Passover festival. The Passover is described in chapter 12 of the book of Exodus, which tells the story of the Israelites escaping from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish families had to daub lamb's blood on their doorposts; when God saw the blood he "passed over" those homes, but he killed the first born of the Egyptian families who were keeping his people in slavery.

Jesus was like those lambs that had to be killed for God's people to be saved. The Bible says Jesus was the last lamb that would ever need to be sacrificed; his blood would keep people spiritually safe forever more. Jesus died to save us from sin, and he rose again to show he was boss over sin and death. All we have to do is invite Jesus into our lives. That's why Easter Sunday, aka Resurrection Day, is something worth celebrating!

Later, the church instructed people to observe other special days in the run up to Easter to remember different events in Jesus life, from Shrove Tuesday, through Lent, to Ascension Day and Pentecost.

Richmond Park Church, Read more about the life of Jesus and where Easter traditions came from
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