The origins of Easter Sunday and even the name "Easter" are a bit shrouded in mystery and confusion. As you head down this historical rabbit hole, you'll find quite a few theories and explanations as to where Easter got its name and why it's celebrated in the spring. One thing's for sure though: you won't find any mention of Easter in the Bible.
One of the big theories about Easter is that it was created in order to coincide with a pagan holiday. The story goes that the early church wanted to provide an alternate celebration for Christians at the same time as a spring festival used to honor a pagan goddess. You know, so Christians would have something to do other than go to a pagan festival. However, there are a few holes in that theory...
One of the prevailing origin stories of Easter involves a pagan deity called Eastre (or Eostre), the supposed goddess of spring and fertility, celebrated by the Saxons of Northern Europe. According to the mythos, Eastre was the "goddess of the east" (where the sun rises), and a festival was held in her honor during the Spring Equinox. Oh yeah, and her symbol was a hare, which is part of another connecting theory involving the Easter bunny.
However, one major plot hole is that historians can find NO hard evidence that Eastre/Eostre was ever worshipped by anyone, anywhere, at any time. There are no shrines, no altars—nothing. The only time we find the name Eastre mentioned is in a side reference buried within the writings of the Venerable Bede, an eighth-century monk and historian, as he discussed where the month Eosturmononath got its name. That's it!
Around the 19th century, German folklorist Jakob Grimm happened to be researching the German name for Easter, Ostern or Ostarâ (in Old High German), to see if he could figure out its origins. He found that it was related to the German word for "east," which is ost. When he couldn't find a solid link between Easter and pagan celebrations, he then assumed maybe "Ostern" was derived from the name of an old German goddess. Of course, just like Eastre, other than Grimm's one conjecture, there's no other mention of this goddess anywhere else.
The word Easter probably originates from an old word for "east" or the name of the springtime month, Eosturmononath. Other than the sketchy myths about goddesses, there's not much other evidence about the name.
Something we DO know is why Easter occurs in the spring, between March 22 and April 25, and always on a Sunday. See: How is the date for Easter determined?
We also know that, for Christians, Easter is a time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The observance of Easter goes way back, even before Christmas, and it's one of the most important days of the church year, because the resurrection is a key event upon which all Christians must base their faith (1 Corinthians 15:14). That said, the Bible never mentions Easter, nor does it require us to set aside a day to observe and reflect upon the resurrection. But there's nothing wrong with celebrating either!
Some Christians believe Easter should be renamed "Resurrection Sunday," which would make sense because it keeps the focus on why the day is being celebrated at all. The Apostle Paul says, "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17). Whatever anyone decides to call it, the important thing to remember is that Jesus is alive, and that means everything He said was true, and eternal life with God is possible for all who believe in Him (Romans 6:4).
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The word Easter probably originates from an old word for "east" or the name of a springtime month. Other than a couple sketchy myths about goddesses, there's not much other evidence about the name. The Bible never mentions Easter, nor does it require us to set aside a day of celebration for the resurrection. But there's nothing wrong with celebrating either! Whether you call it Easter or Resurrection Sunday and whether or not you observe the holiday, the important thing to remember, every day of the year, is that Jesus is alive, and He is the reason why have hope for eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:17; Romans 6:4).
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two teenage kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.