Let’s stop using the word ‘Easter’

Of the major lanuages, only English and German call the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection anything like “Easter.” In German it’s Ostern, but in most other languages it’s something like the Dutch Pasen or Italian Pasqua, “Passover.” Even in Welsh (Pasg) and Irish (Cáisc) it’s derived from the Hebrew (by way of Latin). In a few sensible places the holiday is called “Resurrection Day.” I’ve noticed this increasingly happening in America, too, and I’m glad.

Yes, it has more syllables. I still prefer it.

Because “Easter” comes from Eostre, a pagan fertility goddess. Drag in all the revisionist symbolic explanations you can conjure, but that’s why the rabbits and the eggs. Seriously. There are no rabbits or eggs in the resurrection story. I checked.

resurrection easter

Illustration by Bartek Ambrozik • freeimages.com

If like me you’re interested in this kind of comparison, here’s a long list of what Resurrection Day is called around the world, and an even longer one of how to say “Happy Easter” in a bunch of languages. Find the Anglo-Germanic influences!

Next year, I am going to make more of an effort to use “Resurrection Day” instead of “Easter.” Because words are important. Christians have certainly done a more thorough job of co-opting the pagan holiday Ostara than the heathen have of co-opting Christmas. But in that sense, Easter has become an abstract, whereas Resurrection represents a concrete tenet of our faith.

And no, I don’t consider it too late to discuss this. Eastertide, or Paschaltide, or Resurrectiontide, continues until Pentecost.

What do you think? How do you feel about the pagan origin of the word “Easter?”


About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

7 comments on “Let’s stop using the word ‘Easter’

  1. Quite a bit. It’s not just the origin of the word, it’s the origin of the holiday that’s pagan and everybody who’s studied the subject to any depth knows it. The fact comes up every year. Only a handful ever start acting on it.

    *Pascha comes from the Greek for *Pesach in Hebrew, which is “Passover”. But Passover both in Old Testament type and in New Testament fulfillment and subsequent practice is a memorial of Jesus’ death, not a memorial of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus commanded His followers to observe the first, but not the second. And that’s exactly what the early Church and its legitimate heirs did for four centuries until the Roman Church decreed otherwise. Some continued to do so at the risk of their very lives, and their heirs (and some others) still do to this day.

    The Quartrodecimian Controversy was famous and there are reasons why it happened, but one upshot of it was the famous debate between the bishop of the Churches of God in Asia Minor (who insisted on keeping the Passover as John and his heirs taught it) and the bishop of Rome (who insisted on what he himself acknowledged was the tradition of the elders, that is, what we now call Easter). Same name – Pascha – different observances at different times with different meanings.

    The date of the morning of the Wave Sheaf Offering, which is when Jesus ascended to heaven and returned, though always on “the morrow after the Sabbath”, differs on the Hebrew calendar every year. It also is not a commanded assembly in Leviticus 23, as are the seven Holy Days listed therein. It is exactly the opposite of something which can be treated as a yearly anniversary. Even Pentecost can be, because it’s not only counted from the morning of the Wave Sheaf but is a commanded assembly. Jesus’ resurrection, while obviously cosmically significant (we are justified by His death, but we shall be saved by His life), was meant to be regarded as something historically unique, unrepeatable and therefore not commemorated yearly as a memorial (leastways not as a commanded assembly, let alone as a “sunrise service” which again comes right out of paganism – Jesus actually died on a Wednesday Passover and rose at the end of the Sabbath, after three days and three nights as He said, not on Sunday morning). But every year the early Church renewed its covenant symbolically with Jesus Christ through His body and blood (unleavened bread and wine), proclaiming His death until He comes.

    The early Church also kept the Sabbath, Festivals and Holy Days as Jesus did and there are Christians who still do. I’m one of them. Who gave the Roman Church the right to declare anathema those who do? Or to misrepresent and even alter the scriptures in favor of their antinomian agenda? A blatant alteration in the Church Fathers and some Catholic Greek MSS. along those lines is Colossians 2:16-17, which in its authoritative reading actually upholds, not denies, Christian observance of these days, saying “but (let) the body of the Christ (judge these matters)”. Let the Church, Christ’s Body, not some Gnostic outsider, judge how to eat and drink or to observe God’s commanded assemblies – this is what the real grammatical sense in context demands. Take out one particle as the Catholic Church Fathers did and the sense is changed to what all modern English vernaculars I know of has, “but the body (is) of Christ”. And this is true even of those versions which rely on Greek texts which have the first reading, not the second. So deeply entrenched is the bias on this topic!

    I’ve been wondering whether a day like this would come, when I’d have the opportunity to say something like this here. I could’ve just walked away from it and read what the rest of you said. But something in me compelled me to state what each and every one of you can prove for yourselves.

    • Thanks, John. Ever since I read anout the first century debates, I’ve felt Polycarp had the right idea. Un-trenching tradition is so hard…

      • We in the Living Church of God and similar Sabbatarian churches have a *lot of respect for Polycarp, disciple of John, and Polycrates his disciple. That you would say what you just said is nothing short of awe-inspiring to me.

        But one can un-trench tradition. I did. All it takes is the decision to do so and the determination to carry the tradition through, regardless of personal cost – while not falling into the leaven of the scribes and Pharisees and mistaking one’s personal values for God’s universal values (a sure recipe for hypocrisy and self-righteousness).

    • Er, while some of the traditions associated with Easter are Pagan (e.g. bunnies and eggs), the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ is NOT a Pagan holiday. Many–most–early Christians were converts from Judaism and while it is not a command for them to remember Passover, it was only natural that they do so. With a new association of the resurrection at that time instead. Gentile converts were likewise not commanded to remember Passover and were disinclined to do so, but they did remember that Christ resurrected at that time. The original dating of the celebration is linked to Passover–in fact in Eastern Orthodox churches it is still linked to Passover. Catholicism changed the dating so that Easter would always fall on a Sunday, but even their system (which Protestants accepted) is loosely linked to Passover. Your version of the reason between the shift of dates between Eastern and Western Christianity is not historical according my knowledge of church history, John.

      The Pagan holiday, by the way, is set at the spring equinox, March 20th, and while Resurrection Sunday can be on that date (at least I think it can, I’m not specifically checking) it quite rarely actually IS. The situation is quite the opposite of Christmas, which was a Pagan holiday set at the winter solstice (under the old Roman calendar the solstice happened on Dec 25th instead of Dec 22 under our current calendar), which Christians slapped a Christian name to and tried to bring into the church with talk of Jesus’ birth. (I’m not against celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas, by the way, but there is no question the origin of the holiday is Pagan.) Calling the celebration of the Resurrection “Easter” allowed an attempt to suppress Pagan worship in Germanic countries by associating it with an ALREADY EXISTING Christian holiday. But the celebration of Christ resurrection is literally as old as Christianity itself and the date does NOT come from Paganism at all.

      And Kristen is quite right–in no other major language and no other place other than early England and Germany did the Pagan name attach itself to the Christian practice. (Though some of the Pagan traditions of bunnies and whatnot did in places like France.) Let’s keep the day now called “Easter” but with the correct name of “Resurrection Day.” And with the proper traditions.

  2. I’m not a fan of “Easter”, for precisely the reasons you pointed out (the pagan origin of the word). But it’s tough swimming against the tide.

  3. If we ought to ditch “Easter” because the word is derived from pagan sources, then we ought to ditch Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, because these all are derived from the names of pagan gods and goddesses and we are not to take their names upon our lips. So also the month June. It’s not the origin of something that determines its meaning. It’s not where something comes from, it’s where it goes. I’m indebted to my son Adam for that bit of clarifying wisdom, so I give credit. Avoiding a name because of pagan origin carries no weight. Psalm 29 is almost verbatim a Canaanite hymn to the god Baal, with one important difference. The Name YHWH replaces it. There may be other legitimate reasons for not getting involved in the trappings of some holidays (notably Halloween of course), but the origin of the name is, biblically, not one of them.

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