Is Easter Heathen?

Christmas certainly is. Jesus’ disciples certainly never celebrated it. For early Christians, saintly personages’ death day was important. Celebrating someone’s birthday was, well, pagan. Sorry but it’s true.

But Easter is a little different. It is named after the Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess Eostre. But some people also argue it may be based on the Jewish Passover. In fact it is called the Paschal feast. And Jesus is still called the Paschal Lamb. In fact Easter may be the only feast Jesus ordered us to keep (…do this in memory of Me…).

So which is it?

BTW and FWIW it doesn’t bother me some Christian feasts may be pagan. Every part of human culture has to have some connection, direct or indirect, to paganism, because we were pagans longer than we were monotheists. And plus some of them like Christmas are just so d@mn fun. What more can I say?


Heathen? Why, the Easter bunny is just as Christian as… Santa Claus! :smiley:

Probably because the Last Supper was a Passover seder. And the communion wafer bears a striking resemblance to matzo. I’ve been told they even taste the same (wouldn’t know personally, I’ve only had matzo). So whether or not it’s based on Passover or not there is certainly a connection there.

If you require that a religious holiday sprang from the forehead of the founder/s of that religion, then yes… More accurate to say, human beings have been celebrating annual rituals related to seasons since prehistory.

All the Christian major holy days use elements from other religions which predate them. Easter is not just the resurrection of Jesus but the celebration of the return of all life from the seeming dead (we call this “spring”), which was anciently and in many places associated with the death and rebirth of a ‘year king’ or a god or a goddess like Persephone. It is also “the Christian Passover”, and the celebration of the first full moon of spring. Many of the themes of Easter like the rabbit and the eggs are borrowed from European pre-christian cultures.

Every religion is layered upon the rituals and meanings of previous ones. The only reason that seems so culpable to some people as regards Christianity is because Christianity built upon the Hebrew concept of linear, historical, time as opposed to the ancient idea of circular time. This results in both believers and anti-believers needing “historical proof” of events in the Bible.

The wikipedia article about Eostre is enlightening.
It appears that the only source for the goddess Eostre is the Venerable Bede; nevertheless many scholars have accepted the existence of an Eostre cult as possible or even probable.

It does seem quite plausible, but I expect the reality was more complex.


My understanding is that Ishtar, (pronounced Easter!) was the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex, (bunnies and eggs, anyone?)
After Constantine decided to Christianise the empire, ‘Easter’ was changed to represent Jesus.

So they co opted a celebration of sex and fertility and changed ‘Ishstar’ to Easter.

So NOT originally Christian, I’m thinking.

Re: Christmas, I wouldn’t be so sure that Jesus didn’t celebrate his birthday, as there are 2 birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible, so the practice was known. Now about the date of the birthday, is most likely not correct.

Well the date of Easter isn’t correct either since it changes every year.

The Easter-Ishtar connection is an urban myth of very recent creation. It’s quite false - there is zero evidence to support it and it doesn’t make any sense linguistically.

Once again, it fell on a Sunday this year. Coincidence?


Depends on the church. Some churches uses ripped up pieces of white bread, others use crackers, most high churches I have been to use a wafer that seems mass produced and tastes faintly sweet, many churches use actual matzoh. It could just be my experience but having a seder style on service on Good Friday has been increasing in popularity and has pushed more churches to using matzoh.

Yep. I’d never heard it, and some quick research doesn’t show any connection between the two. The cognates of “Ishtar” include “Astarte”, “Ashtoreth”, which refer to the appearance in the sky of the planet Venus. Not “Easter” (refers to east and dawn), and not even “Asherah” (a mother/consort goddess), nor “Aphrodite” (a goddess of sea foam).

However, at least Aphrodite took some aspects syncretically from Astarte (which is why we call Sol II “Venus”). It’s not entirely impossible that some portions of an Easter cult borrowed some features of an Astarte cult, but there’s no evidence of it. And I’m not aware how Germanic peoples would’ve communicated with Semitic peoples in the appropriate time frame. I’d say it’s an interesting idea, but without evidence it’s not credible.

As an aside, even Easter as a pagan goddess is barely documented. Nevermind trying to link it with another cult.

Yes. The process is called syncretism. It’s universal; no culture or religion or language is exempt from it. It’s not good or bad, but simply how people are. Some people try to denigrate the process as “cultural appropriation”, but that should be focused on the perceived value of marginalized people rather than the syncretization of ideas. And, as you say, some people want “historical proof” which misses how human cultures interact.

More info on that here: Post-Pascha Reminder: Easter Is Not a Pagan Holiday

I feel that’s more relating to Communion than it is to Easter.

The word Easter meaning the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, is only used in English. Other languages reference Passover (Pascha etc.). In Catholic theology at least, Easter is the Christian “passover” and is celebrated as such.

You do réalise that your entire argument is based on the fact that you speak English? Only in English and German is it called Easter / Oster.

In Greek, Latin, the Romance languages, the Scandinavian languages, and other European languages, the name of the festival is a variant of «paschal», derived from the Passover. And since Christianity originated in the eastern Med and didn’t reach England until the late 2nd century AD, it’s pretty hard to say that Christianity based its most important festival on an obscure Anglo-Saxon goddess that was not known to the early church.

Arguing that a religious festival that originated in the eastern Med is really based on an obscure Anglo-Saxon goddess, mentioned in one and only one source, written seven centuries after the feast originated, is the worst kind of Anglo-centric folk etymology.

This is consistent with early Christian history, theology, and etymology. As mentioned, in European languages other than English and German, the name of the feast is some variant on «paschal». (Oh, and Polish is an exception as well. It’s called the «Great Sunday» in Polish, if I’m remembering correctly.)

However, «heathen» has never generally been used to describe Judaism, in my experience.

[quiote]In fact Easter may be the only feast Jesus ordered us to keep (…do this in memory of Me…).

That hasn’t been interpreted as a commandment to keep Easter as such, but the Eucharist, celebrating the death and resurrection. It’s not restricted to Easter once a year.

That only makes works if the name for Easter under the Romans was a variant of «Ishtar», and Constantine instituted the festival in the 3rd century AD.

But the historical record is that Easter was pretty much the earliest major Christian festival, in the 1st century AD. And it’s never had a name similar to «Ishtar» in the Greek or Latin/Romance languages.

Plus, sex and fertility are pretty far removed from the theological themes of Easter.

Again, Anglo-centric folk etymology.

I’m Pagan and celebrate Easter as a day of reflection on the coming of spring and rebirth much like I celebrate Ostara. As a Pagan my path is mine to choose.

Yeah, Ostara, or Oestre. I remember a discussion about this a few years back here. I faintly remember someone calling Bede a liar, but never provided evidence Easters origins were solely a Christian idea.