5 Things You Didn’t Know About Easter

1)  Easter likely got its name from a Pagan holiday

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While the definite origins of the name Easter are unknown, the most common explanation is that it comes from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility known as Eostre.  The root of her name comes from “eastre,” meaning “spring.”   In his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, Bede states that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the equivalent of April), pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Eostre’s honor, but that this tradition had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

2)  The origins of Easter Eggs aren’t certain

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There are a couple theories on where the Easter Egg tradition originates.  The first is that it also started with Eostre.  As the tale goes, Eostre stumbled upon a bird dying from the cold in the snow. She turned the bird into a hare, so that its fluffy coat kept it warm and safe. Because it was once a bird, it still laid eggs, so the rabbit decorated them and left them as gifts to Eostre for saving its life.  The second possible origin is that people used to believe that rabbits were hermaphrodites, which gave them the ability to give birth without losing their virginity to someone. This relates to the virgin birth of Jesus from Mary.  Some churches even sport a three hare motif, consisting of three hares connected by their ears running in a circle.  Finally, a third story looks at the Easter Rabbit in De ovis paschalibus, a German book that translates to About the Easter Egg. It states that the tradition started in the Christian-dominated Alsace, carried over to America with German immigrants in the 1700’s.

3) Easter is the reason why we use the Gregorian calendar

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In the 16th century, it was recognized that the Julian calendar of the Roman Empire was actually out of sync with the solar year.  Because of this, Easter was moving further away from the spring equinox.  To reduce this gap, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar.  As a “rival” religion, the Protestants in Europe were against the change.  Because of this, England waited until 1752 to adopt the Gregorian calendar.  On that day, the country skipped 11 days overnight, going from Wednesday, September 2, to Thursday, September 14. The Gregorian calendar is still the most widely used civil calendar today.

Eastern Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar to calculate religious holidays. As a result, while most of the Western world will celebrate Easter on April 5 this year, Orthodox churches are celebrating on April 12.

4)  The Pilgrims hated Easter celebrations

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New England colonies viewed religious celebrations very differently from how they are viewed today.  They scorned religious holidays like Easter and Christmas, claiming they had pagan roots and lacked a scriptural basis. So much in fact, that Christmas celebrations were fully outlawed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1659 to 1681.  Some Christian denominations still discourage its members from celebrating Easter, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and many Pentecostal churches.

5)  The Easter Bunny isn’t a worldwide tradition

 

In America, the common tradition is the Easter Bunny and his candy and eggs, but across the world Christians have developed other interesting ways to celebrate the holiday.  In Sweden, they celebrate the Easter witch.  A mini-Halloween occurs on either the Thursday or Saturday before Easter when little girls dress up in rags and old clothes and go door to door with a copper kettle looking for treats.  Some parts of Latin America and Greece celebrate by burning effigies of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus.  Bermudan Christians fly brightly colored kites on Good Friday to represent Christ’s ascension to heaven.  In Spain, some Christians don cloaks and pointed hoods to participate in eerie night-time processions. The parades are organized by local religious brotherhoods. The participants carry crucifixes and religious icons through the streets, acting out the Easter story.

 

Sources: toptenz, huffingtonpost