Evolution of Easter
April 11, 2004 6:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm yet to find a coherent answer to the following question online or anywhere. Crucifixion to chocolate easter eggs. How did that happen?
posted by feelinglistless to Religion & Philosophy (17 answers total)
ob. Bill Hicks attribution.
(See also Lincoln logs in your sock drawer)
posted by Fupped Duck at 6:57 AM on April 11, 2004

My understanding is that modern day Easter is a mix of pagan festivals of spring, and the whole Jesus ascending to heaven deal. So really, they haven't got a lot to do with each other, except for being at the same time of year.
posted by Orange Goblin at 7:23 AM on April 11, 2004

well, not an expert on this but raised catholic - so here's what i've gleaned from my own inquisitiveness:

catholic church has a long history of co-opting pagan symbols (ie, christmas tree) and shifting important dates around to coincide with pagan holidays (if it was winter when jesus was born there wouldn't have been any shepherds nearby, from what i've heard). the idea is that by making your brand new religion (which christianity was at one time) more similar to existing ones, there's greater ease in converting people.

the easter story is one of rebirth - jesus dies, but doesn't really die - he's reborn and ascends to heaven, and our hope is that we also will die but will be born again. springtime is the time of year when the world is renewed by new growth after the death of winter. pagan springtime symbols, such as the egg (symbolizing birth) and the rabbit (symbolizing fertility) were the most appropriate for this story, and were thus coopted.

so where does chocolate come in? celebration of the rebirth and celebration of the end of lent, when devout catholics are supposed to deny themselves things like sweets and meat etc. to symbolize the denial that jesus went through for forty days in the desert prior to making the decision that dying on the cross was worth it. when the lenten season is over, there's an end to this self-denial of the good things in life, and a celebration of rebirth and the hope of our own rebirth someday. sweets become popular on this day as part of the celebration. thus, sweets (like chocolate) plus symbols of fertility and rebirth (rabbit, egg) plus a few thousand years to mess up the details, and we have the easter bunny dropping cadbury's creme eggs into our life once a year.

can't help but wonder what symbols would have been adopted by the church if christianity had originated elsewhere. would we have an easter phoenix?
posted by caution live frogs at 7:28 AM on April 11, 2004

As orange goblin said. Pagan fertility festivals. Hence eggs, rabbits, etc. I believe the name easter is also from the same root as that of estrogen and I think it all got mixed in with christianity sometime later.

Not too sure how the chocolate fits in.

on preview:beaten to it
posted by devon at 7:38 AM on April 11, 2004

I know this is reducing the signal/noise ratio, but--great answer, caution live frogs!
posted by notsnot at 7:52 AM on April 11, 2004

Eddie Izzard: "And kids eat chocolate eggs because of the color of the chocolate, and the color of the…..wood on the cross.
Well, you tell me! It’s got nothing to do with it, has it?...
And the bunny rabbits! Where do they come into the crucifixion? There were no bunny rabbits up on the hill going, "Hey, are you going to put those crosses in our warrens? We live below this hill, all right?" Bunny rabbits are for shagging, eggs are for fertility. It’s a festival – it’s the spring festival!"

posted by CunningLinguist at 8:15 AM on April 11, 2004

The egg thing is also (in part) a vestige of when early Christians celebrated Passover, (eggs being a passover symbol).
posted by Marquis at 9:52 AM on April 11, 2004

To build on what Marquis said, Easter isn't in spring to link to pagan fertility rituals. It's in spring because Passover is in spring. The dates vary a little bit because of different ways of reckoning the same lunar-calendar date (and dates of Easter can vary between the Protestant-Catholic world and the Orthodox world), but the idea is that Easter follows Passover.

Lining up with pagan holidays might be right for Christmas -- there's no date given... but we know he must have had a birthday,we just don't know what it was, so 25 Dec is as good a day to remember and celebrate it as any. But not for Easter, where there are specific dates given.

As far as the bunnies go, CLF is spot on; it's pagan stuff that got (or remained) popularized. And a perpetual hobby-horse of some practicing Christians (get that bunny out of your house! he's worse than Santa!).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:14 AM on April 11, 2004

this might help explain too, but it's about peeps mainly.
posted by amberglow at 10:31 AM on April 11, 2004

Google "easter eggs origin". I mean, really.
posted by nicwolff at 11:10 AM on April 11, 2004

I mean, really.

It was the chocolate aspect I was interested in, nicwolff. Thanks caution live frogs and everyone for the information.
posted by feelinglistless at 1:00 PM on April 11, 2004

yeah, easter is named for the norse goddess of spring, Eastre. Could also be the root of estrogen, although I hadn't heard that before.

The winter solstice and the spring equinox are times of celebration in most cultures - times when things aren't perfect but they're getting better - the days get longer, the earth gets warmer and softer... it's really no surprise these dates were maintained by the new religions. I think there is some sect or percentage of christians who refuse the more pagan symbols of fertility and rebirth (or for xmas, the continuance of life through the dark via evergreens), taking the story more literally.

re: candy, what holiday doesn't include some sugary dessert?
posted by mdn at 2:18 PM on April 11, 2004

Could also be the root of estrogen

Looking it up, estrogen is estrus + gen, which makes sense.

what holiday doesn't include some sugary dessert

Yom Kippur? Good Friday?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:46 PM on April 11, 2004

Pavlovian association.
posted by konolia at 5:20 PM on April 11, 2004

The fact that Easter sometimes falls near Passover is a lucky coincidence for the church. The date of Easter varies and doesn't always fall as near to Passover as this year. The name itself is pagan (though English and German are the only languages that retain the pagan name), as are the bunnies and the eggs.

And, yes, the timing of Christmas is also off, I believe the exact explanation is that the shepherds were watching their flocks at night, which they only did around mating season (spring).
posted by dagnyscott at 7:15 AM on April 12, 2004

Sheep mating season is in the winter. Otherwise, we would have no spring lamb. (So… shepherds are are watching their sheep only during mating season? *removes mind from gutter*) /veer off topic
posted by Dick Paris at 8:05 AM on April 12, 2004

Easter isn't in spring to link to pagan fertility rituals. It's in spring because Passover is in spring.

Easter is in spring because it's spring.
Pagan fertility rituals are in spring because it's spring.
Passover is in spring because it's spring.
It ain't a coincidence. They're all celebrating the same thing.

Passover is actually older than the Exodus story, and comes from the sacrifice of a spring lamb to appease the gods (it's actually borrowed from another religion). It's all about fertility and birth and hoping for a good harvest and life.

Just about every culture has this sort of celebration around the start of spring, just as they have them in the fall to give thanks for a good harvest. There's also a winter one marking the longest night of the year (and thus the return of the sun) and a summer one for the longest day. Events such as the Exodus and the birth of Christ often migrated from their actual dates to merge with the nearest big festival over the centuries for a variety of reasons (like absorbing large populations of outside worshippers or needing to hide their practices by using the cover of their ruler's religious observances).

And as for the chocolate connection, all that denial leads to some heavy indulgence, and chocolate is pretty indulgent. It's like Shrove/Fat/Pancake Tuesday, where the foods eaten are those that best use up all the prohibited stuffs prior to Lent. Add in the reproductive acumen of bunnies and the symbolism of eggs for birth, and it's a confluence of symbols. Like Christmas trees, a pagan Germanic winter custom that, once Christianity took hold in the region, became a Christian one, with the star of Bethlehem as a topper.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:14 PM on April 12, 2004

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