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Easter Article Bookmarks

Dating of Resurrection of Christ Lent and Ash Wednesday
Council of Nicaea Traditions with Possible Pagan Influence

Question-1What Is Easter?

When we think of Easter what do we think about? For most of us we think about the resurrection of Jesus. We think about His death, and the sign that God gave us with His resurrection, that Jesus' life was an acceptable alternative for the punishment of our own sin. But just where did the roots of the Easter holiday come from?

Question-2Where Did The Name Easter Come From?

Easter was originally a Saxon word (Eostre), denoting a goddess of the Saxons, in honor of whom sacrifices were offered about the time of the Passover. Hence the name came to be given to the festival of the Resurrection of Christ, which occurred at the time of the Passover. In the early English versions this word was frequently used as the translation of the Greek pascha (the Passover). When the Authorized Version (1611) was formed, the word "Passover" was used in all passages in which this word pascha occurred, except in (Acts 12:4) In the Revised Version, the proper word, "Passover" is always used.(1)

Easter should be translated "Passover," as in R. V. and most other translations (Acts 12:4).(2)

Pre-Christian Tradition:

Easter, a Christian festival, embodies many pre-Christian traditions. The origin of its name is unknown. Scholars, however, accepting the derivation proposed by the 8th-century English scholar St. Bede, believe it probably comes from Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon name of a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, to whom was dedicated a month corresponding to April. Her festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox; traditions associated with the festival survive in the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and in colored Easter eggs, originally painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring and used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts.

Dating Of The Resurrection Of Christ:

According to the New Testament, Christ was crucified on the eve of Passover and shortly afterward rose from the dead. In consequence, the Easter festival commemorated Christ's resurrection. In time, a serious difference over the date of the Easter festival arose among Christians. Those of Jewish origin celebrated the resurrection immediately following the Passover festival, which, according to their Babylonian lunar calendar, fell on the evening of the full moon (the 14th day in the month of Nisan, the first month of the year); by their reckoning, Easter, from year to year, fell on different days of the week.(3)

Christians of Gentile origin, however, wished to commemorate the resurrection on the first day of the week, Sunday; by their method, Easter occurred on the same day of the week, but from year to year, it fell on different dates.(3)

An important historical result of the difference in reckoning the date of Easter was that the Christian churches in the East, which were closer to the birthplace of the new religion and in which old traditions were strong, observed Easter according to the date of the Passover festival. The churches of the West, descendants of Greco-Roman civilization, celebrated Easter on a Sunday.”(3)

There are, however, a few different opinions (besides Microsoft Encarta) among Christian scholars on how to interpret the text of Messiah's crucifixion.

Some view the Synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) as stating that Jesus' last supper was a Seder, a Passover celebration at the start of 15th Nisan, just after sundown (Jewish days begin at sundown and continue until the next sundown). Jesus was crucified later that day and died about 3 p.m.

Some view the gospel of John as stating the last supper was at the beginning of 14th Nisan. Jesus is recorded as having died on the afternoon of 14th Nisan.

If Jesus were crucified on a Friday, then Passover would have fallen on a Thursday. This happened both in the years 30 and 33 A.D.

Some Christians believe that Jesus Christ was executed and buried just before the beginning of Passover on Friday evening. Others believe that the crucifixion occurred on a Wednesday or Thursday.

Question-1Why Was It That The Early Church Chose To Celebrate The Messiah's Resurrection At A Time That Was Inconsistent With The Passover Holiday?

Council Of Nicaea: 

There was a meeting that was held at the request of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in the year 325 A.D. The result of that meeting helped to shape Christianity not only then but still today.  Even though Constantine knew that the Messiah was crucified during the Jewish holiday of Passover, he wanted to distance himself and Rome from Jewish holidays, traditions, and cultures. The council unanimously ruled that the Easter festival should be celebrated throughout the Christian world on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox; and if the full moon should occur on a Sunday and thereby coincide with the Passover festival, Easter should be commemorated on the Sunday following. Coincidence of the observance of the feasts of Easter and Passover was avoided this way.

Having the holiday tied into the spring Equinox (on that day of the year the night and daylight are approximately equal), may have been attractive to Constantine because this event was already being celebrated in the surrounding cultures as part of the worship of pagan gods. This still goes on today with Wiccans and other pagan religions.

The Council of Nicaea also decided that the calendar date of Easter was to be calculated at Alexandria, then the principal astronomical center of the world. The accurate determination of the date, however, proved an impossible task in view of the limited knowledge of the 4th-century world. The principal astronomical problem involved was the discrepancy, called the epact, between the solar year and the lunar year. The chief calendric problem was a gradually increasing discrepancy between the true astronomical year and the Julian calendar then in use.

Easter is considered a movable feast because of this influence.

Ways of fixing the date of the feast tried by the church proved unsatisfactory, and Easter was celebrated on different dates in different parts of the world. In 387, for example, the dates of Easter in France and Egypt were 35 days apart. About 465, the church adopted a system of calculation proposed by the astronomer Victorinus (flourished 5th century), who had been commissioned by Pope Hilarius to reform the calendar and fix the date of Easter. Elements of his method are still in use, although the Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus made significant adjustments to the Easter cycle in the 6th century. Refusal of the British and Celtic Christian churches to adopt the proposed changes led to a bitter dispute between them and Rome in the 7th century.

Reform of the Julian calendar in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, through adoption of the Gregorian calendar, eliminated much of the difficulty in fixing the date of Easter, and in arranging the ecclesiastical year. Since 1752, when the Gregorian calendar was also adopted in Great Britain and Ireland, Easter has been celebrated on the same day in the Western part of the Christian world.

The Eastern churches, however, which did not adopt the Gregorian calendar, commemorate Easter on a Sunday either preceding or following the date observed in the West. Occasionally the dates coincide; the most recent times were in 1865 and 1963.

Because the Easter holiday affects a varied number of secular affairs in many countries, it has long been urged as a matter of convenience that the movable dates of the festival be either narrowed in range or replaced by a fixed date in the manner of Christmas. In 1923, the problem was referred to the Holy See, which has found no canonical objection to the proposed reform. In 1928, the British Parliament enacted a measure allowing the Church of England to commemorate Easter on the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. Despite these steps toward reform, Easter continues to be a movable feast.

It may be that until the 4th century CE, Easter and Pentecost were the only two holy days that Christians observed. Other occasions related to Jesus' execution were gradually added to the church calendar:


This was a period of spiritual preparation for Easter, which typically involves fasting, penance and prayer. Various Christian groups originally established it as an interval ranging from a few days to several weeks. It was eventually fixed in the 8th century CE at 40 days. Among Roman Catholics, Lent lasts for six and a half weeks before Easter, excluding Sundays. Among the Eastern Orthodox churches, it is a full eight weeks, because Saturdays and Sundays are not included.

Some Easter Traditions May Have Pagan Influence:

Ash Wednesday:

This is held on the first day of Lent, a Wednesday. Although the holiday may not have pagan origins, the day of the week might. “Wednesday" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "Wodnes Daeg;" Woden was the Saxon god of war and victory.

It was also customary on Jewish Fast Day Holidays to put ashes on the Holy Ark, the Torah Scrolls, and the heads of all those assembled. (Mishna Taanis 15a) (4)

Hot Cross Buns:

At the feast of Eostre, the Saxon fertility goddess, an ox was sacrificed. The ox's horns became a symbol for the feast. They were carved into the ritual bread. Thus originated "hot cross buns." The word "buns" is derived from the Saxon word "boun" which means "sacred ox." Later, the symbol of a symmetrical cross was used to decorate the buns; the cross-represented the moon, the heavenly body associated with the goddess and its four quarters.

Easter Lilies:

Sometimes used as a symbol associated with reproductive organs and fertility.

Some Christians believe that this flower grew at the site of the crucifixion or grave.

Easter Rabbit and Eggs:

The symbols of the Norse Goddess Ostara were the hare and the egg. Both represented fertility. From these, we have inherited the customs and symbols of the Easter egg and Easter rabbit. Dyed eggs also formed part of the rituals of the Babylonian mystery religions. Eggs were sacred to many ancient civilizations and formed an integral part of religious ceremonies in Egypt and the Orient. Dyed eggs were hung in Egyptian temples, and the egg was regarded as the emblem of regenerative life proceeding from the mouth of the great Egyptian god."(5)

Easter Sunrise Service:

This custom can be traced back to the ancient Pagan custom of welcoming the sun god at the vernal equinox - when daytime is about to exceed the length of the nighttime. It was a time to celebrate the return of life and reproduction to animal and plant life as well. Worship of the sun god at sunrise may be the religious ritual condemned by Jehovah as recorded in Ezekiel 8:16-18.(6)

Some Christians have this service, because they believe the Messiah was resurrected at sunrise.

Easter Candles:

These are sometimes lit in churches on the eve of Easter Sunday. Some commentators believe that these can be directly linked to the pagan customs of lighting bonfires at this time of year to welcome the rebirth/resurrection of the sun god.

Holy Week: Looking At The Week Before Easter Sunday:

Palm Sunday:

Holy Monday:

Holy Tuesday:

Holy Wednesday:

Maundy Thursday:

Good Friday:

Holy Saturday (a.k.a. Easter Eve):

Other Interesting Days Include:

Easter Sunday:

Feast of the Ascension (a.k.a Ascension Day):



Knowing the source of origination of a holiday does not mean that the same holiday or at least same calendar date cannot represent something different. Wouldn't it be sad if nobody went to church every time Halloween (October 31st) was on a Church day.

To want to celebrate the resurrection of the Messiah is a wonderful thing. Without the resurrection, Christianity has no eternal value. It is clear that His crucifixion took place shortly after the celebration of the Passover Seder meal. What's important is to believe and appreciate the resurrection. From this event, we can know that through faith in our Messiah our sins are forgiven. The church, for many different reasons, adapted pagan rituals at various holidays. While it is the thought that counts, we should also be mindful of where things originated.

A Christian has nothing to loose by trying to have a greater understanding of Messiah's background, culture, and traditions. Sometimes celebrating a traditional Jewish holiday, not because we have to but because we want to, can offer us a great blessing. Understanding the Hebrew culture associated with Passover, helps us to focus on getting sin out of our life. Understanding the resurrection of Messiah, helps us to understand that the sacrificial offering our High Priest made for us, using His own blood, was accepted by the Father as a substitute for ourselves. Realizing that the religious practices we have today were not all necessarily part of the original body of believer's customs should motivate us to seek the truth. This is one way that we can worship in spirit and truth.

Read about The Holiday Of Passover.


1). Easton Bible Dictionary:

2). Naves Topical Dictionary:

3). Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2002:

4). ArtScroll Tanach Series on Daniel p.243

5). Gerald L. Berry, "Religions of the World," Barns & Noble, (1956):

6). J Farrar & S. Farrar, "Eight Sabbaths for Witches," Phoenix, Custer, WA, (1988):

Some information from this article came from a web sites that are operated by Religious, and Microsoft Encarta:

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