Too many things in life leave me confused. Nevertheless, I am a curious person, so I seek for answers. And when a simple answer exists, perhaps the effort to find an alternative explanation turns out to be unnecessary. For example, throughout my adult life, it has never made any sense to me why truly devout followers of Jesus persist in using the term “Easter” to describe the commemoration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The use of this term appears all too perplexing since a more explanatory and inspirational name exists. Why do followers of Jesus not simply abandon the term “Easter” and call this holiest of days Resurrection Day?
Once many years ago, I overheard a conversation where a younger man attempted to explain to an older woman how the holiday of Easter was entirely of pagan origins. Possessing more bravery, I could have inserted myself into that pooling of ignorance to explain a few realities. Yet, the persistent use of the term “Easter” in English no doubt contributes to this canard. The term never appears in the Bible, of course, and the event around which this momentous occasion took place was the biblical Feast of Passover. In Hebrew language, the Passover holiday is called Pesach, and proceeds as a clear loan word into the Greek language as Pascha.
In English, the term “Easter” carries no perceptible meaning other than its link to the holiday. Whether its antecedents, Eostre or Ostara, refer to an actual Anglo-Saxon goddess of springtime or dawn continues to be debated among scholars of ancient paganism. Likewise, how much the Venerable Bede, church historian of the eighth century, actually knew of the older pagan customs finds no consensus. Writing his “De Temporum Ratione” (On the Reckoning of Time), Bede claimed the old term “Eosturmonath,” (that is, Eostre-month, which is April) had been supplanted in Anglo-Saxon verbiage by “Pascal month,” as the people adopted Christianity.
It could have ended very smartly there, but it did not. Paganism persists, and in English most retain and use the word “Easter” for the resurrection of Jesus to which it has no actual connection. Yet, in many other languages of the world, this important holiday relates to the biblical holiday around which the event occurred. Latin and Greek (Pascha), French (Paques), Italian (Pasqua), Spanish (Pascua), Albanian (Pashke), Dutch (Pasen), Danish (Paske), Swedish (Pask), Welsh (Pasg), Russian (Pascha), my beloved Finnish (Pääsiäinen), and many more, all clearly demonstrate, not homage to a supposed Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess, but to the biblical holiday of Passover (Pesach).
To those for whom the holiday centers around egg-hunts, bunnies, and chocolate, it makes sense to call the day “Easter,” and you will get no complaint from me. But why do devout followers of Jesus persist in using this inartful term when we should embrace the core tenet of our faith and simply call it Resurrection Day? Could the answer truly be as simple as “We’ve always done it that way?” That explanation I find confusing and hard to believe. Shouldn’t we be more intentional and thoughtful in our practices than that? But then again, many things confuse me.
Kyle A. Kettering graduated from Xenia Christian High School in 1998, Cedarville University in 2004, and Nyack’s Alliance Theological Seminary in 2017 with a degree in ancient Judaism and Christian origins. Kyle serves as a teaching elder at Church of the Messiah in Xenia.