I was asked yesterday about the origins of the word, Easter. The person insisted that Easter is a pagan holiday that celebrates the spring fertility goddess. This person further insisted that any true believer would not acknowledge Easter, but instead celebrate Passover.
I like to reference scripture for the principles which form the foundation of my life and worldview, however, in this case the issue deals more with origin and language than biblical truth, as no one debated the resurrection of Jesus, but rather the celebration (I believe there was a direct denial of the deity of Christ in this encounter as well, which I will address at some point in the future).
Some, as this person that I encountered, insist that the name, “Easter” originated with the name of an ancient goddess. The Venerable Bede (672-735 CE.), a Christian scholar, first made the assertion in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre), the goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the “Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility was known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.” Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring, “eastre.”
Another explanation finds its origin in the the Frankish church, which named Jesus’ resurrection festival with the Latin word “alba” which means “white.” (This was a reference to the white robes that were worn during the festival.) “Alba” also has a second meaning, “sunrise.” When the name of the festival was translated into German, the “sunrise” meaning was selected in error. This became “ostern” in German. Ostern has been proposed as the origin of the word “Easter”.
The problem with origin studies like this is that they are widely based on late observation and flimsy arguments of language adaptation. This sort of rhetoric combined with the seemingly endless supply of pagan gods and festivals allows for the origin of nearly every holiday and word to be traced to something pagan… Lets look at the example of the English word for Sunday.
There are two popular beliefs about the origin of the English word, “Sunday.” The first is that it is derived from the name of the Scandinavian sun goddess Sunna (a.k.a. Sunne, Frau Sonne). Surprise! Another pagan goddess that has a day or festival named after them.
Another explanation is that, “Sunday” is derived from, “Sol” the Roman god of the sun.” Their phrase “Dies Solis” means “day of the Sun.” What an amazing coincidence! Two possible origins of the word, one from another widely used language and influential culture and one from a pagan goddess.
I like the response from the Christian, Saint Jerome, who commented, “If it is called the day of the sun by the pagans, we willingly accept this name, for on this day the Light of the world arose, on this day the Sun of Justice shone forth.”
Jerome really didn’t care where the name had originated. Jerome was only concerned with two things: being able to communicate to others accurately of the day, and being able to communicate to others why the day. The day is Sunday, the why is Jesus.
To some the word, Easter may mean the goddess of fertility, “Eastre.” To others the word, Easter may be a bad pronunciation of the German word for sunrise which referenced the annual baptisms. As for me and my house, Easter is the first Sunday following the Passover when we rise early, look to the East, longing for the return of Jesus. Easter is the day that we remember that Jesus did not simply redeem us out from bondage (the enslavement to sin), but also promises eternal life to those who trust in Him.
Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection and worship of Jesus.
He has risen!
The following sources were used:
1. Larry Boemler “Asherah and Easter,” Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 18, Number 3, 1992-May/June
2. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod Q & A Set 15, “Why do we celebrate a festival called Easter?”
3. Gerald L. Berry, “Religions of the World,” Barns & Noble, (1956).
J Farrar & S. Farrar, “Eight Sabbats for Witches,” Phoenix, Custer, WA, (1988).
4. “Sunna,” TeenWitch at: http://www.teenwitch.com
5. “Dies Solis and other Latin Names for the Days of the Week,”
6. “Sunday Observance,” Latin Mass News
7. “Aphrodite,” Wikipedia, as on 2012-MAR-26
8. “Easter, Its Pagan Origins,” http://www.religioustolerance.org/easter1.htm