One tactic that modern secular, progressive, anti-Catholic, agnostic, atheistic, outright angry celebrities employ is to ridicule away the names of Christian festivals by appealing to their supposed ancient pagan origins. They tell us, for instance, that our celebration of Easter is nothing other than the celebration of an ancient Germanic-Anglo Saxon fertility goddess named Eostre and the use of the Easter bunny and its eggs are links to this ancient “goddess.”
This supposed explanation for the origin of the English name of the Christian solemnity known as Easter has but one ancient source. St. Bede the Venerable, an eighth century English monk, notes in his writings that “Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated ‘Easter’ and which was once called after a goddess named Eostre.”
Strange how one monk’s explanation for how the Resurrection came to be called “Easter” in English is cause to dismiss the whole event as a mean-spirited Christian attempt to supplant ancient, enlightened celebrations of a goddess. The truth is that the genius of Christianity is its ability to find itself within a given cultural context and interpret existing symbols and festivals in light of Jesus Christ.
If the fertility goddess Eostre’s name is indeed the origin of the word Easter, it was a logical way Christian evangelists could explain to pagans how the true God is the real author of creation. Only He has been able to overcome death, the ultimate robber of humanity’s ability to continue in existence.
The Easter bunny and its eggs were not used as symbols for the Resurrection until our Lutheran friends employed them in the 17th century. Nonetheless the rabbit, or bunny, or hare, is one of the most prodigiously reproducing, fertile animals on planet earth. The creation of God, who can create by mere pronouncement of His Word, may be likened to the ability of this animal to pro-create.
While rabbits do not lay eggs we know that, like humans, females are able to reproduce only because their reproductive systems produce eggs. The egg can be seen like the boulder that once lay across the entrance to Jesus’ tomb, which was broken like an egg so that the Lord could rise forth to new life.
Perhaps we could interpret the word “Easter” in a different way. To modern ears, Easter sounds more like the direction east on the compass. Multiple references in both the Old and New Testaments describe the coming and return of the Lord as originating in the east, just as the sun rises in the morning, to shine His light on the world.
Ezekiel, for instance, says, “The glory of the LORD entered the temple by way of the gate facing east.” And Matthew says, “For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” The priest celebrant may face the altar during Mass to remind us of this.
The celebration of Easter is not a Christian’s way of supplanting, or honoring some pagan goddess. It is the Christian’s way of looking for the Lord — as did the women at the tomb on Easter morning — and honoring the God of perfect creation, light, and peace.
Unlike the solitary explanation that we call it “Easter” after a pagan deity, our celebration of the Resurrection has the whole Bible as its source. All we must do is continue to look for His return by a
worthy way of life.