Is Easter really a Christian holiday? Do you know the origins of many of the traditions of this holiday? What exactly did Jesus ask us to celebrate?
Easter is really an entire season of the Christian church year, as opposed to a single-day observance. Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday, is a time of reflection and penance and represents the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the wilderness before starting his ministry, a time in which Christians believe he survived various temptations by the devil. The day before Lent, known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, is a last hurrah of food and fun before the fasting begins. The week preceding Easter is called Holy Week and includes Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples; Good Friday, which honors the day of his crucifixion; and Holy Saturday, which focuses on the transition between the crucifixion and resurrection. The 50-day period following Easter Sunday is called Eastertide and includes a celebration of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
In addition to Easter’s religious significance, it also has a commercial side, as evidenced by the mounds of jelly beans and marshmallow chicks that appear in stores each spring. As with other holidays, such as Christmas, over the centuries various folk customs and pagan traditions, including Easter eggs, bunnies, baskets and candy, have become a standard part of this holy holiday. None of these traditions have any connections to Jesus and the Memorial of his death and resurrection.
Where did the extras come from?
Philippe Walter, a professor of medieval literature, explains how such customs became part of the Easter celebration. He wrote that “in the process of the Christianization of pagan religions,” it was easy to associate the pagan festival that celebrated “the passage from the death of winter to the life of springtime” with Jesus’ resurrection.
Walter adds that it was a key step in introducing “Christian commemorations” to the pagan calendar, thus smoothing the way to mass conversion. This process of “Christianization” (the adding of pagans and changing religions) did not occur while the apostles were still alive, because they acted as a “restraint” against paganism.
The apostles knew that worship needed to be kept clean. At Acts 20:39, 30, The apostle Paul warned that after his “going away,” men would “rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” Late in the first century, the apostle John wrote that some men were already misleading Christians. The way was open for the eventual adoption of pagan customs.
Some may feel, however, that allowing some of the Easter customs was not wrong—that it gave “pagans” a better understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul, however, would never have agreed. Although exposed to many pagan customs while traveling through the Roman Empire, he never adopted any of them to give people a better understanding of Jesus.
On the contrary, Paul warned the Christians: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? In 2 Corinthians 6:14, 17 Paul warned Christians, ‘Therefore, get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing.’”
One more thing we need to remember.... Jesus asked us to commemorate his death, not his resurrection. In Mark chapter 14, the actual Lord's Evening Meal points to what Jesus commanded us to do, and what he wanted us to do in "remembrance" of him.
We as a family choose to not celebrate the Easter holiday with its links to pagan traditions. We do observe the Memorial of Jesus death annually. We are not perfect, but we strive to keep our worship to Jehovah as pure as possible.