Easter bonnets, Easter eggs, Easter bunnies, ...

Why Celebrate Easter?

The origin of the custom and tradition of ...

The Easter Bunny-Rabbit

The Pennsylvania Dutch introduced the Easter rabbit into this country. Children were told that the rabbit laid the Easter eggs. Sporadically one comes upon cakes baked of bread dough in the shape of a rabbit, shown in the process of laying an Easter egg.

The Easter rabbit is perhaps the greatest contribution the Pennsylvania Dutch [=Deutsch, German] have made to American life. It would be interesting some time to chronicle how this came about, how the Easter bunny conquered the nation. No doubt Easter commercialization, particularly the Easter greeting cards, produced in Germany, really won the battle, not to forget the millions of nineteenth-century German immigrants, who fortified the custom.

The Easter rabbit is entirely foreign to England, even to large parts of Europe. It was the Palatine [Germany] immigrants of the eighteenth century who introduced him into our country and to our English-speaking neighbors. Wherever the Pennsylvania Dutchman migrated in the early decades of our history, whether south to Virginia, the Carolinas, or Tennessee, whether north into New York state or Canada - he took the custom of the Oschter Haws [Easter Rabbit] with him.

It must be remembered that the vast majority of the early English settlers in the Commonwealth [of Pennsylvania] - the Quakers and the Presbyterian Scotch-Irish - did not celebrate Easter. In fact, they even "shunned" it. The only exception were the British-Isles settlers of Episcopalian or Catholic background, but their numbers in the early decades of our history were extremely small.

Somewhere in the acculturational process the Easter rabbit came into the homes of Episcopalian, Quaker and Scotch-Irish neighbors of the Dutch, very slowly, however, and in numbers small up to the post-Civil War period.

There is reference to the growing popularity of the Easter rabbit in Christian Culture for April 1, 1891, which quotes an article by Katharine Hillard in the Atlantic Monthly: "For more seasons than one cares to count, the Easter egg has been the familiar symbol of the great spring festival; but of late years, owing probably to the immense increase of our foreign population, another emblem has begun to dispute its supremacy in the confectioners' shops and for some time the hares at Easter have been almost as numerous as the eggs."

In the Pennsylvania Dutch Country the Easter rabbit always lays the eggs. The "rationalists" among us tell the children that the bunny "brings" them. Among our strictest religionists, especially among the Plain People, children are sometimes not told about the Easter bunny, just as they are not told about Santa Claus, "because," as they say, "this would be lieing." In families, where the children are not taught to make nests for the Easter rabbit, the parents put gifts of Easter eggs and candy on the child's plate, where it is found by the children on Easter morning.

For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from "Eastertide in Pennsylvania: A Folk Cultural Study" by Alfred L. Shoemaker, Kutztown, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Folklife Society, 1960. pp.46-48.

Countless millions of Christians observed "Easter Day" on April 4, 1999 A.D. But no Christian observed Easter in 99 A.D. - why not?

Easter is perhaps the most pivotal of all the Christian festivals. Fail to observe it and you would not be considered a Christian. Wasn't Jesus crucified at that time of year in early Spring? Didn't he hang on the cross for many agonizing hours? Was he not placed in a rock tomb at just before Easter? And on Easter morning did he not rise from the dead?

That in a nutshell is the "Easter story".

On Easter Sunday Christians everywhere don their best attire ("put on their Easter bonnet") and go to places of worship - to mighty cathedrals, to lowly chapels, to churches made of mud, to open spaces. Millions rise before dawn for a sunrise service in honor of the Savior of mankind. Surely Easter is a festival central to the faith of all Christians.

Yet many Christians do not observe it. Why?

These same Christians are as convinced as the others that Jesus died and rose again. That by these acts they have been freely redeemed and given eternal life. That through Jesus they are placed as sons and daughters of the Almighty. But they do not observe Easter.

First Observation

You may be surprised to learn that neither did the apostles. Nor any of the first Christians!

In fact it was not for perhaps a century after the resurrection of Jesus that its observance began to enter the Christian Church [Harper's Bible Dictionary]. Indeed the very word "Easter" is found nowhere in Scripture except in one gross mistranslation in the King James Bible (Acts 12:4, where the Greek says "Passover", not "Easter") - corrected in later versions.

Anyway, what on earth do you mean - "Easter"?

Says the Oxford Companion to the Bible: "Easter: From Eostre, a Saxon goddess, celebrated at the spring equinox". The goddess was also known as Astarte and Ishtar - the name used in ancient Babylon. Her son was Tammuz (called Nimrod in the Scriptures) who died violently. Her "weeping" was deemed to bring about his resurrection in the spring. This same idolatrous practice crept into the worship of ancient Israel - see Ezekiel 8:14. It later gave rise to the practice of "Lent" - the forty days of partial fasting prior to Easter.

The early English historian, the Venerable Bede (673?-735) wrote that the heathen Anglo-Saxons called the fourth month "Estur-monath" after the goddess Eostra (De temporum ratione chapter 13). Eostra, the Germanic goddess of Spring and probably the Dawn, is also known as Eostre and Ostara. Her festival (including probably the worship service at sunrise) was combined with the celebration of Christ's resurrection when the Anglo-Saxons and Germans were converted to Christianity. See Ostara's home page.

Strange Customs

As the Christian Church abandoned God's revealed precepts it thus began to wear the religious garb of the idolatrous religions that surrounded it.

Ishtar was also worshipped idolatrously as Venus and Isis, and one Of her symbols was the egg. Hence the modern - and ancient - custom of colored eggs at Easter. The egg symbolized her fertility. This strange notion also accounts for the "Easter bunny" - rabbits and hares, too, being seen as fertility symbols in ancient idolatry.

Strange, isn't it, how "modern" man can lapse into silly and idolatrous worship, ascribing it to the one and only pure and righteous God. Creator of all things!

Ancient Festival

How then did the first Christians mark this pivotal historical event of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

The truth is they continued to observe one of the most ancient of religious festivals, the origins of which go back to just after man's creation. From it derives all the sacrificial rituals used by mankind in whatever religious guise. When our first parents sinned God showed them that they must sacrifice an innocent victim to cover that sin. In ancient Israel, a lamb was sacrificed. It was known as the "Passover lamb". This occurred in conjuction with the "Feast of Unleavened Bread", and the firstfruits of the barley harvest. You can read about it in Leviticus 23.

This spring festival marks the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God - and his resurrection as the Firstfruits of mankind into the Family of God. That same mistranslation in Acts 12 served to hide its continued observance. "Easter" should read pascha - Passover.

That the first Christians continued this form of worship is verified by both the Scripture record and by secular history. The Oxford Companion for example, goes on to admit the late arrival of Easter as a festival on the Christian calendar - mid-second century. After the death of the apostles the Church caved in to the pressures of the surrounding pagan society. To avoid persecution and to achieve political clout - and more converts. the religious practices of the day were grafted on to Christianity.

Does It Matter?

God reveals Himself as "Jealous". So jealous for how He wishes to be worshipped that the "people of God" - the nation of Israel - were evicted by God from the land of promise for embracing strange worship. Read, for example, the fierce condemnation of Israel for "Easter sun-rise services"! The account is in Ezekiel 8:16.

A further example is Israel's failure to worship God on the seventh day of the week (Ezekiel 20). Another is the abandonment of God's annual Festival of Tabernacles - the notorious and oft-mentioned sin of King Jeroboam (I Kings 12:32-33). Read, too, the account in Jeremiah 10:1-5 of God's condemnation of what looks suspiciously like a Christmas tree! Here God warns Israel: "Learn not the way of the heathen [i.e., idolatrous worship]... for the customs of the people are vain". Israel "forsook the Lord and served Baal and Ashtaroth [i.e., the goddess Easter]" (Judges 2:11-13).

Nowhere in the writings of the Old or the New Testament Scriptures did Jesus Christ authorize a change to the worship prescribed for mankind. Clearly, the religious worship surrounding Easter is in direct conflict with that prescribed by God.

For God, it does matter how we worship. He remains "jealous". In no way does this compromise His deep and enduring love for mankind. To add practices from the depraved religions concocted by the perverted imaginations of devil-inspired humans is an affront to the Creator.

Too many Christians ask: "How did the heathen worship their gods? Even so will I do likewise". And what is God's response? "You shall not do so to the Lord your God... What things soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it" (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

Judgment

What will you do when, facing Jesus Christ, you plead for admission to the Kingdom? You may say, Didn't I religiously attend worship every Easter - and Christmas and Sunday - from childhood? Didn't I dress up and roll eggs and for years diligently worship you at our annual Easter sunrise service? Didn't I give up smoking for Lent? And didn't I teach my children that the Savior was to be worshipped through the Easter bunny?

His reply may well be: In vain [uselessly] did you worship me, teaching for doctrines the traditions of men" (Matthew 15:9). Simply because you call Jesus "Lord" is not enough. You must "do the will of my Father which is in heaven". Otherwise Jesus Christ may say to you in that day: "I never knew you; depart from me you that work iniquity [i.e., you do not in your Christian walk express the law of God] (Matthew 7:21-27). To go through life thinking you were diligently serving God and then to at last find out He hadn't noticed you is an awesome thought.

Is that what you want?

[For a survey of the true worship revealed in the Scriptures you are invited to request the title Christian Holy Days. Also the article The Faith Once Delivered] Was Jesus crucified on Friday? For an answer to this and other queries about Easter, request The Resurrection Was Not On Sunday.

To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.

For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Volume 1 Issue 2, March/April 1997. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.


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