Many Christians deny that modern Easter celebrations have their roots in the symbols and rituals of paganism. They have a right to that belief.
However, it cannot be denied that Easter and Ostara have a great deal in common from the root word of their names to their deeper spiritual meanings.
This article is an attempt to pull together the common threads of both religions in order to attempt to build a mutual understanding.
For the purposes of this article, the term paganism or pagan refers to a wide range of pagan religions that were present in ancient Europe, the middle east, and some parts of Africa. Ancient paganism was not an organized religion and practices varied from place to place.
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The origin of the name
Easter is said to be derived from the Germanic word Oster, meaning rising in the east. Ostara has its roots in the name of the Teutonic virgin goddess of spring, dawn, and fertility known as Eostre or Ostara. As the goddess of dawn, her name is also rooted in the word for east.
The vernal equinox
Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox. Ostara is the celebration of the beginning of spring. This seems highly appropriate for two holidays that both honor the renewal of life.
The full moon
Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Pagans commonly hold their sabbats (sacred rituals marking the Wheel of the Year) on the night of the full moon nearest the equinox, though some hold it on the day of the equinox itself.
The Easter egg
There are numerous stories about how the Easter egg came about. Some stories say that Mary Magdalene was the first to give out Easter eggs. Still others claim that Easter eggs were given out on Easter Sunday because during Lent people had not been allowed to eat them. The exact source is unknown.
Pagans however have for centuries held the egg to be a symbol of new life, particularly in spring when the birds have just returned from their winter migration and begun building nests. In addition, pagans have long used eggs as healing too promote fertility. The colors and designs on the eggs were often fertility symbols.
Another source of colored eggs may have been created by the ancient Greeks, who gave eggs that had been dyed red as gifts.
The Easter basket
Every Easter children receive baskets of toys and candy. Later the baskets are used to hunt their Easter eggs.
Ostara, however, as the goddess of spring and fertility, is sometimes depicted as carrying a basket full of eggs. This may either be a sign of her fecundity or the gift of pregnancy to a woman who wants to become pregnant.
In addition, one of the common offerings to Ostara on her holiday is a basket full of seedlings.
Lamb is an Easter symbol because Jesus was the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sins of human kind.
Pagans also claim this symbol. Lambs are a traditional symbol of spring since that is when they are born. As a symbol of spring, the lamb sacred to the goddess Ostara.
The Easter Bunny
No one really knows how the Easter Bunny came into being. It is certainly not of biblical origin, though many Christian families do allow their children to believe in the Easter Bunny.
To pagans, however, the Easter Bunny is the white hare, an animal also associated with spring because they were known to come out of hibernation in March and cavort wildly, hence the term “mad as a March hare.” In addition, ancient pagans saw the markings on the face of the moon as a rabbit or a hare. Like the lamb, the hare is sacred to Ostara.
The theme of new life springing from death
Jesus died then rose from the dead three days later.
In paganism, new life coming from death is a recurring theme. It is part of the pagan Wheel of the Year which also represents the circle of life. In Celtic paganism, for example, the sun god impregnates the fertility goddess who later gives birth to him again. So the cycle of life continues.
Some gods die, are buried, and grain sprouts from their bodies. The grain is then harvested and made into bread that is shared in a communal meal amongst the followers of the god.
Hot cross buns
Hot cross buns are an Easter tradition. They consist of a round sweet roll made with citron and/or raisins and marked on top with a cross made of white frosting. It is said to have originated with a woman putting aside a bun on Good Friday for her son who was overseas in the military.
However, the pagan peoples of Europe have been making circles of bread marked with cross on top for many centuries. To pagans, a cross or an X in a circle, be it in stone or on bread, is the symbol of the sun.