A Brief Look At The History of Easter

Easter may be considered one of the most celebrated religious festivals the world over. This festival is celebrated primarily to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, nowadays, even this event is being extensively commercialized by private companies. Some publish Easter greeting cards, while others manufacture Easter-related goods. Amidst all of these commercializations, people should still not forget what Easter is really about and must know the history of this holiday.

A brief Look Into The History of Easter

Easter For The Christians

Easter is one of the major festivals of the Christians because it honors the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after He was crucified. The observance of this religious festival started way back in the early years of Christianity, and was even one of the oldest celebrations after the Sabbath. Many historians assert that the observance of Easter is a combination of Pagan, Christian, and Hebrew traditions.

The Pagan Origin

An English historian named St. Bede states that this festival originated from Teutonic mythology. According to him, the term ‘Easter’ was coined after the name of the Germanic goddess Eostre. Because Eostre is the goddess of Spring, they dedicated the month of April to her. The festival itself that is dedicated to Eostre is celebrated during the vernal equinox, wherein the night and day are almost of equal lengths.

When the early Christians came and wanted other people to join and believe in Christianity, they figured that it will be easier for people to accept the religion if the name of this festival would be close to that of the old Pagan spring celebration. Therefore, they decided to name the festival “Easter.”

The Hebrew Origin

On the other hand, some historians assert that the Easter known today is closely connected with the Jewish Passover, which is a part of the Hebrew tradition. The Jewish Passover is held during the 1st month of the Hebrew year called Nisan, and is celebrated to remember how Moses freed the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt more than 3000 years ago.

It was during the Jewish Passover when Jesus Christ was crucified for blasphemy as ordered by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor at that time. On the Easter Sunday, which is three days after His crucifixion, he resurrected from the dead. The first Christians who were accustomed to the Jewish tradition, then considered Easter as the new Passover.

The Christian Passover

Image courtesy of Janaka Dharmasena at FreeDigitalPhotos.netIn the past, the observance of the early Christian Passover was all about honoring the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, starting from the 4th century, Good Friday was celebrated separately and Easter Sunday was observed to commemorate Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

Although there are still some pagan rites which became a part of the celebration, the spirit of the occasion became so much different. One major difference is that the people no longer glorified the physical return of the god of the Sun.

By the 2nd century, the observance of Easter was already established. However the Eastern and Western Christian Churches cannot still come to an agreement regarding the date of the Easter celebration. The Eastern Churches wanted to celebrate it during a weekday because the Christians in the past celebrated the Passover yearly on the 14th day of Nisan. On the other hand, the Western Churches wanted Easter to always be celebrated on a Sunday no matter what date it is.

In order to resolve this issue, Emperor Constantine summoned the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. They came to a decision that Easter must be celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Since the date of the equinox is still not set, the Alexandrians used their knowledge in astronomy and mathematics to come up with the date for spring equinox—March 21.

Up to now, the Western Churches still follow the decision of the Council of Nicaea, and Easter is celebrated between March 21- April 25 every year. However, it is also important to note that there also some Eastern Churches which celebrate this religious festival based on the original date of the Passover.

In Conclusion

In the United States and in many parts of the world, there are big events which are held to celebrate Easter. Although traditional Eastern symbols remain to be the major parts of these events, new ones are also incorporated. As a whole, all of these shows that Easter is about renewal, life, rejuvenation, and restoration.

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~ Carrie

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