“No, Easter isn’t derived from the name of the Babylonian fertility goddess, Ishtar, nor any pagan festival. But even if it were, so what?”
It is rare for Christians on the Puritan / fundamentalist side of the spectrum, Neopagans, and atheists to agree on anything, but one thing many (though not all) do agree on is that Easter, like Christmas, was originally a Pagan holiday that was wrongfully adopted / borrowed / swiped from the Pagans.
“You stole our holiday(s)!” complain the neo-Pagans. “You shouldn’t celebrate Easter / Christmas, it’s a Pagan holiday!” complain the neo-Puritans. “Ha, ha! Christians are so dumb they celebrate Pagan holidays and think they’re theirs,” chortle (some of the less-knowledgeable and less-charitable) atheists.
Well, they may be in rare agreement, but they’re all wrong… as the linked essay (and the sources which it references) do a good job of pointing out. And as someone with degrees in medieval studies (B.A.) and theology (Masters), I can vouch for the accuracy of these points.
There are only two things I would add, regarding Easter: the first is something which is alluded to here, but not spelled out, and that is the fact that in every non-Germanic speaking European culture, historically and now, the holy feast that we in the Anglophone world call “Easter” is referred to as “Pascha” or a close cognate thereof (“Pasque” in French, for instance).
And that is derived from the Greek and Latin words for the Jewish Passover (Pesach). Not only did the events of the Crucifixion and Resurrection occur during or near Passover, but Easter – Pascha – is the Christian “Passover,” in which Christ is our saving Paschal Lamb, whose blood saves us, not from an avenging angel, but from Satan, sin, and death.
This understanding was held, and the feast of the Resurrection celebrated, long before ever Christians came into contact with Anglo-Saxons and a possible goddess named “Eostre,” or “Ostara.” Centuries before! And that brings me to my second point:
Eostre (“Ostara” is a reconstructed word based on Old High German) is attested in one and only place: a reference by the Venerable Bede, in an 8th century work of his called “The Reckoning of Time.” Now, I have a huge amount of respect and affection for Bede. I’m vicar of the Oratory of St. Bede, for pitysakes! But if his is the only attestation of something, its existence has to be considered provisional and conjectural.
In other words, there may not ever have been a goddess Eostre; it may have been an etiological legend harvested (or even – gasp! – constructed) by Bede to explain the name of a month (Eosturmonath) whose origin has been lost in antiquity. Christians could hardly “steal” something that may not ever have existed in the first place. But even it there was such a deity, it doesn’t mean Easter has any more to do with her worship than celebrating Sunday means we’re worshiping the Sun.
Indeed, it’s interesting that some Christians who oppose Easter on these (rather flimsy, it must be said) grounds are also very insistent that we do celebrate Sunday, despite the fact that the Sun was revered as either a goddess – Sunna (or Sól – see “solar system”) in Old Norse – or a god, by nearly all Europeans; including, eventually, and well after Christianity had been established, Sol Invictus by the late Romans.
So if it’s wrong to celebrate Easter because it’s (allegedly) called after the name of a goddess, shouldn’t it be wrong to celebrate Sunday because it’s named after a deity, too…? Well, of course not, because the name is essentially irrelevant: what’s relevant is what is being celebrated, and why. Christians who worship on Sunday but don’t celebrate Easter would probably be quick to protest that we have a totally different interpretation of Sunday, now – and they’d be right. So, also, with Easter!
And the two are, in fact, connected. Sunday is a “little Easter,” a feast of the Resurrection, because Christ was raised on the third day (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday makes three days – yes, I know it wasn’t a literal three 24-hour periods after His Crucifixion, but our ancestors weren’t as literal-minded as some of us are): that is, Sunday, which became the first day of the week for Christians.
And if all that (plus the linked essay itself) doesn’t convince someone, well, I guess that person is not open to being convinced. That’s okay, they’re entitled to believe what they want, and celebrate as they want. The rest of us will continue to celebrate Easter, Christmas, AND Sunday! 🙂 And give thanks to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit for the opportunity. Easter (Paschal) blessings to all who read this!
Happy Easter (season)! Go forth and conquer, knowing He who conquered Satan, death, and all the powers of Hell goes before you. And don’t fear his fiery memes.
N.B. The author of this Patheos post does bobble one thing, referring to the “Britons” when he means the Anglo-Saxons. The Britons were a Celtic people, as anyone reading The Anglophilic Anglican doubtless knows, while the Anglo-Saxons were a Germanic one. He’s spot-on otherwise, though!