Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

Is Easter Really a Pagan Holiday?

  • Audra Davis Contributing Writer
  • Updated Feb 16, 2024
Is Easter Really a Pagan Holiday?

The celebration of Easter is rich with symbols and traditions and can vary from family to family. A typical Easter Sunday may include bunnies, decorated eggs, egg hunts, lilies, new clothes and sunrise services at church. While it may never cross the mind of some, many Christian families question the appropriate way to celebrate Easter. Has Easter become too commercialized? Or, aren’t some of these celebrations pagan at their root?

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Crosswalk.com interviewed two authors to learn more about Easter and its history. After working in Christian retail for 13 years, Susan Richardson wrote “Holidays and Holy Days” to help answer similar questions posed by her customers. Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute International and host of the Bible Answer Man radio program, also speaks to the issue.

The resurrection of our Lord and Savior has been celebrated since the discovery of the empty tomb. However, the “official” holiday was declared in 325 A.D. when Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea. At that time it was determined that the church would celebrate Easter on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. This is why the actual date of Easter varies from late March to early April every year due to the variances in the timing of the full moon.

Richardson explains that dating based on the moon was a nod toward the Jewish celebration of Passover, which was also determined by the moon. Many secularists today argue that Christians were attempting to circumvent the pagan celebrations of the day. However, Hanegraaff explains that instead, “Christians were saying ‘this is the real celebration.’ ”

From the timing, vernal (meaning spring) equinox (relative to the sun), to the name Easter, taken from the pre-Germanic word eostre (the direction from which the sun rises), both Hanegraaff and Richardson see early Christians as redeeming early pagan symbolism.

As Richardson says, “the new Christian might look at a familiar symbol and see it with new meaning.” For example, the hare, which has evolved into the modern day bunny, was seen as a symbol of fertility and spring. A Christian could view the hare’s coming out of the burrow, as representative of the burial and resurrection and a completely different form of “new life.”

As the early church began to expand into new lands, there were diverging opinions on how to handle local customs. One school of thought was to require converts to abandon their cultural traditions in order to embrace Christianity.Another tactic was to maintain local customs as much as possible but to give Christian meaning to them.

Richardson explains that the second strategy “was not an attempt to mislead, but more a cultural sensitivity to the people that were there.” She says that this is much like the missionaries today who try to take the gospel and put it into context that is meaningful to people within their frame of reference.

Hanegraaff also outlines the intentionality of establishing a rival holiday. “For instance in the case of Christmas, people don’t remember the name of the pagan god that was originally worshipped on December 25th.” Instead this holiday has been supplanted by the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior

So is it ok to bring on the baskets, chocolate bunnies, and colored eggs? “Absolutely,” says Hanegraaff. "These basic symbols are springboards to talking about what is truly important... the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He urges that children be taught the representation of the symbols within a Christian context.

The resurrection is “the central event to the Christian faith. As he rose, we too shall rise. This is the apex of Christianity, anything that points to new life is pointing to the resurrection,” says Hanegraaff.

Richardson sites the example of Paul in 1 Corinthians 8, discussing the eating of meat that has been sacrificed to idols. “(Each person) should take the question before the lord individually to determine what he would have you do,” she says. Explaining, that if a particular custom is a stumbling block, then “it is right to remove that barrier and not participate in that custom.”

“The last thing I want to do is to cause more division within the body of Christ. We are going to disagree on some things, but as long as we are not disagreeing on the essentials - the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ then it is unimportant,” says Richardson.

(First published on Crosswalk.com on March 23, 2005)

How Do We Know the Resurrection of Jesus Really Happened?

Hank Hanegraaff explains why the resurrection Jesus Christ is essential to Christianity:

The physical resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of our faith. Without it, Christianity crumbles. It is precisely because the physical resurrection of Christ is at the very heart of Christianity that it is constantly under attack. Our culture frequently denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ due to a bias against miracles. It is common for aberrant Christianity and cultism to deny the physical resurrection of Christ as well. For these reasons, we must be equipped to defend this essential of essentials. To do so, let's look back at the biblical and historical records of Christ's resurrection.

First, the physical resurrection of Christ is affirmed in the canon of Scripture. When the Jewish leaders asked for a miraculous sign, Jesus answered, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days" (John 2:19). Scripture confirms that the temple he was speaking of was the temple of his own body (see John 2:19). John states: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning [Jesus] the Word of Life" (1 John 1:1).

Furthermore, the confessions of Christianity are replete with references to the physical resurrection of the Redeemer. Cyril of Jerusalem proclaimed, "Let no heretic ever persuade thee to speak evil of the Resurrection. For to this day the Manichees say that the resurrection of the Savior was phantom-wise, and not real."

Finally, the characteristics of Christ's body bear eloquent truth to his physical resurrection. Jesus invited the disciples to examine His resurrected His resurrected body so that they would know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was the exact same one that had been fatally tormented. He also ate food as proof of the nature of His resurrected body.

Jesus provided the final exclamation mark for His physical resurrection by telling the disciples that His resurrected body was comprised of "flesh and bones." "Touch me and see"; He says, "a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have" (Luke 24:39).

Taken from "Christ's Resurrection" by Christian Research Institute (used by permission).

Further Reading:

Is Easter Pagan? The Holiday's Origins and History

The Astronomy of Jesus

What is the Real Origin of the Easter Bunny?

Why Do We Celebrate Easter? Importance Explained

Is Easter Pagan in Origin and Roots?

What Is the True Meaning of Easter? Why Is it Celebrated?

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/DGLimages

This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

What Lent and Why is it Celebrated?
When is Lent? When Does Lent Start and End?
What is Ash Wednesday?
What Is Palm Sunday?
What is Maundy Thursday?
What Is Good Friday?

What Is Easter?
What is the Holy Week?
Easter Prayers