History of Europe

Why do we celebrate Easter... and since when?

Easter is the most important holiday in Christianity. Everyone agrees on that, from the Vatican down to the smallest blogger. Still, this fact comes as a bit of a surprise. The biggest festival of the year is obviously Christmas and not Easter! It's no wonder that I've been writing about the history of Christmas long before this post. And man, man, man:Christmas really is a totally invented celebration. Hardly any tradition is much older than a few hundred years. Are the Easter traditions all so fictitious? And anyway:Who invented Easter and what does Jesus have to do with rabbits and eggs? Time to take a closer look at the history of Easter.

Why do we celebrate Easter?

When discussing the most important festival in Christianity, one almost inevitably has to start with its religious significance. All of this has very little in common with today’s Easter holidays and Easter customs, but so be it. So what do you celebrate at Easter? Here, of course, Christians remember one thing first:the death of Jesus and his miraculous resurrection after three days. The longer version of the story should be familiar to most people from their childhood days. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus entered Jerusalem and invited to a big party in the evening, which later went down in history as the Last Supper. The next day, Good Friday, Jesus was betrayed and crucified before rising from the dead on Easter Sunday. You can see right away:he had a sense for drama, the man. He just knew he had to keep viewers floundering for a few days before returning with a big bang. After that he had a good time for another forty days and then, on Ascension Day, ... well .... Christ just ascended to heaven. And that's why we celebrate Easter, dear children.

Nice and good. That's how we all learned it. Of course, as with all biblical traditions, how much of it is true is open to debate. But even with this classic Christian narrative one can notice a few peculiarities. Thus, the Christian Holy Week falls right in the week of the Jewish Passover, which in turn is conveniently celebrated roughly at the time of the vernal equinox (yes, that's actually a word). The Passover commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and their 40-year journey through the desert. A rogue who now sees a connection to the 40-day Lent before Easter and the 40 days from Easter to Ascension Day and thinks that the Christians simply stole everything there. Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with each other!

When is Easter anyway?

The connection with the Passover quickly becomes even more obvious. The fact that Easter is a moveable holiday in the year can also be explained quite well from its early days. The Passover festival also fluctuates so roughly around April from year to year. Well… on our calendar at least. In the Jewish calendar, this all probably makes sense. In Christianity, however, it was soon agreed when exactly Easter should be. For 1700 years now, Easter Sunday has officially been the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring. The first day of spring is March 21st, so the earliest Easter Sunday can be is March 22nd – Good Friday and the like will be adjusted accordingly. Exactly at the same time, by the way, is the mentioned spring equinox. That's why it was a hot candidate for a Christmas date for a long time. It's a good thing it didn't. Celebrating Christmas and Easter back-to-back would be quite a waste of our precious public holidays.

In contrast to Christmas, Easter has been celebrated for quite a long time, even if for the first 300 years people were not quite sure when exactly it should be celebrated. The so-called “original Christians”, i.e. the first Christian communities in Jerusalem, began to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus every year. In the beginning, these were probably just simple services. But soon Easter was celebrated over several days, beginning with the Last Supper on Thursday evening and ending on Sunday. In the first centuries of Christianity, this time was also the usual time to perform baptisms. So the holiday quickly took on a central meaning.

The Easter customs:not so Christian at all

So now we know why we celebrate Easter, where it comes from and why we celebrate it when we celebrate it. Nevertheless, hardly anyone today thinks of Jesus Christ, the Passover festival or the spring equinox when they think of Easter. So where do all of today's Easter customs and traditions that we know in Germany come from? As it turns out, they're not as fictitious as in the case of Christmas! In fact, they are really old! Let's take a closer look at a few of them.

The Easter Egg

Eggs had been a religious symbol for centuries before the story of Jesus and his disciples even took place. In many cultures they stood for life and yes, also for rebirth, because new life springs from the seemingly dead shell of an egg. This symbolism almost imposed itself for the resurrection of Jesus! Thus, the early Christians probably started using eggs in the rituals of the Easter holidays. For example, eggs were soon dyed red and given away. The red is supposed to represent the blood of Jesus. Well then meal.

The Easter Fire

The Easter fire is probably even an older Easter custom than the eggs. But before we get excited about this age-old Christian tradition, a word of warning. There is a very simple reason for this, because Easter bonfires have absolutely nothing to do with Christianity and Easter! Such fires already existed in all sorts of pre-Christian religions, mostly with the purpose of chasing away the winter. We're still talking about the vernal equinox here, after all. Such celebrations were always en vogue! The Easter candle that is lit in Easter services today has a very similar meaning. She brings light into the darkness as the Easter fire carries the warmth of spring into the chill of winter. Well, imaginative is something else.

The Easter Lamb

The traditional Easter lamb is also one of the very old components of the festival. Even the earliest Christians ate lamb on Easter Sunday to mark the end of the Easter holiday. But the lamb is of course not an originally Christian symbol. In many religions and cultures it stands for innocence and in Judaism a lamb was always slaughtered for Passover. But I don't know why we're baking lamb-shaped Easter biscuits today. The world conspiracy of the Zionist money vegetarians is certainly to blame for this.

And the Easter Bunny?

So far, all Easter customs have had quite a long history, even if they hardly had anything to do with Jesus or Christianity. The Easter bunny, on the other hand, is a very modern invention and more closely resembles the many invented traditions of Christmas. In any case, an Easter bunny is more or less unknown before the 17th century. Max from the blog curiositas also recently showed how rabbits were still seen in the Middle Ages. Those were murderous beasts! They can't bring eggs to our kids!

According to legend, this only changed when a baked Easter lamb failed and then looked like a rabbit. People liked it and kept it. It's a beautiful story, but like most beautiful stories, it's probably completely fictitious. The hare probably crept into the tradition at some point because it too is associated with the beginning of spring. The otherwise quite shy little Hoppler come out to mate wildly in all fields and village squares. No wonder that such a spectacle also influenced popular belief. With this rather short history of the Easter bunny, it is striking how the end of the West is conjured up every year when Lindt once again calls his chocolate Easter bunny the gold bunny. Scandal! Islamization! Well, on the subject I simply recommend the short and crisp podcast from the Buddler. Otherwise I'll get upset here ...

And why is the festival called Easter?

So, now we have actually worked through all the myths of Easter. But one last mystery remains, and that's his name. Why is Easter called Easter? First you have to realize that it is still called Passover in almost all European languages! For example, the Italian Pasqua, the French Pâques or the Swedish Påsk. German and English are the exceptions here. And even in German there was still the term Paschen for the Easter holidays well into the Middle Ages. The German and English Easter and Easter, on the other hand, may actually have something to do with the East. So in the sense of sunrise, dawn and so on. This fits quite well with the resurrection on the morning of the third day and with spring in general. It's still hard to say why it had to be changed at some point.

But as always in history, there are also opposing voices to the theory. The Anglo-Saxon monk Bede claimed in the early Middle Ages that the name for Easter does not come from the East but from the name Ēostra, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of light. But as always, one should not place too much trust in the good Beda. He must have simply invented it or it was part of the "popular knowledge" - so someone else invented it. I only refer here again to the legend of Hengest and Horsa, where Bede claimed in all seriousness that all Anglo-Saxons came to England on only three ships. A very critical spirit that was, really.

But to come back to Easter:Respect! But the party showed his annoying brother-in-law Christmas! There's something to it after all, most Easter traditions. You can read here again why it can sometimes be very useful to learn such things from history. We'll hear each other in the Déjà-vu podcast in just over a week! Until then, I wish you all happy Easter holidays!