Connections to paganism have made Easter a controversial holiday within Adventism, as I’m sure you are reminded of via Facebook articles every Easter season. To briefly summarize the history of Easter, in Christendom it celebrates Jesus’ resurrection, but before the season “became Christian,” that the season likely venerated Ēostre, a Germanic goddess of fertility. The connection between the two makes sense linguistically, and the Catholic Church had a habit of Christianizing pagan holidays, but it’s worth noting that historians can’t pin down very much information about Ēostre or if she had her own holiday, and most of what they can find identifies her as a goddess of dawn and sunlight, not fertility. She also has tenuous connections with other symbols of fertility, eggs and famously prolific rabbits, familiar symbols of Easter. However, the symbols have been reclaimed within Christianity, purportedly beginning with Christian communities in Mesopotamia who dyed eggs red to symbolize the blood of Jesus. Easter eggs have also been said to symbolize the empty tomb.
Regardless of whether the symbolic connections are accurate or not, it is important to decide where you, personally, stand on reclaiming things that have a distinctly worldly history. Where is the line between emulating the world and repurposing things to bring people more opportunities to think about important ideas and events? Christians seem especially bothered that the pagan holiday festivities likely included sexual acts in their celebrations of fertility, and modern Christian squeamishness about sex heightens discomfort, causing Christians who accept other holidays with pagan roots, such as Christmas, to keep Easter at arms’ length. It’s important to recall that whatever concepts or actions have been abused by the world are skewed versions of concepts and actions created by God, worthy of reclaiming. Those who draw too close a connection between ancient pagan practices and the Easter Bunny take things a few steps too far. While tracking symbols and ideas through the ages can be enlightening, it can also lead us to make false connections about the intentions and undercurrents of modern life.
If you find spiritual blessing in celebrating Easter, you should do it, despite accusations that Easter has troubling roots. Holidays are meant to bring people together, so bust out the pastel plastic eggs and Easter baskets if that’s your thing. And Easter, in the modern Christian sense, intends to remind people of Jesus’ sacrifice, so embrace the spiritual reminder of new life offered by Church services, spring flowers, and Easter eggs.