Easter is the time Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a holiday which is also shared with secular traditions such as Easter egg hunts, candy and the infamous Easter bunny. Although some of these traditions derive from pagan observances which date all the back to the Roman Empire, do they hinder the gospel message?
While churches around the world celebrate the message of Easter some find its non sacred traditions troubling. The name Easter is not biblical; it is a derivative of Eastre, an Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring and Fertility. Many believe this Spring Goddess had a hare as her companion; the hare symbolized rebirth and fertility. Some reports say Christians later changed the symbol from a hare to the Easter bunny.
It has been stated that this goddess who was known by the names of Eastre, Oestre and Ostara is a goddess of the dawn and spring. Her name comes from the words for dawn and means the shining light which arises from the east. Our words for estrogen, the female hormone, are derived from her name.
Christians have mixed feelings about these pagan traditions which are closely associated with Easter. Today many believers have adopted the name Resurrection Sunday as opposed to the traditional name of Easter.
Executive committee member of the Southern Baptist Convention, Roger Sing Oldham, said even devout Christians have mixed feelings about secular traditions. They are divided on whether it is appropriate to have egg hunts for Easter. Some have said absolutely no way while others see them as opportunities to meet people in their communities and share the message of Jesus Christ. Oldham said in both cases the core truth of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is the message Christian churches teach and preach during this season as well as year round.
Professor of philosophy and religion and dean of Humanities at Hillsdale College, Thomas Burke, said he believes it is acceptable for Christians to partake in secular traditions during Easter season. He reasoned that these secular rituals no longer have the same pagan meanings and association. They are perfectly legitimate practices for Christians and they should feel comfortable when using these efforts to spread Christ’s message to the world.
Burke added, the mission of the church is not only to save people but also to redeem cultures as much as possible. This should never be done by force but by means of teaching and living the gospel of Christ. Once people become Christians they should not leave the world to paganism. The effort of taking pagan symbolism and using them in Christian worship, according to Burke, is simply “Christianizing the culture.”
President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, said Easter is not about bunnies; it is about the Lamb of God being crucified and resurrected. He said he has no problem with activities that provide space for conversation and engage children but the message of the most transformative week in history cannot be compromised.
Assistant professor of Contemporary Christian Ministries, Dr. Quentin P. Kinnison, said it is common for Christian missionaries to use secular symbols such as eggs and bunnies when attempting to evangelize others who have no knowledge of Christianity. Kinnison, who teaches at Fresno Pacific University, said the use of eggs has been used to identify the importance of life along with the resurrection of Christ. Many are not familiar with biblical stories and these known symbols can be used to communicate and connect these cultures to the message of the Gospel.
The question remains, can Christians embrace colored eggs and fluffy bunnies which are associated with the Easter holiday without taking away from the message of Jesus Christ?
Matt Slick of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry wrote such concerns on whether formerly pagan practices fit into Christian tradition for Easter were part of a “genetic fallacy”. Slick explained the genetic fallacy to mean “…if the origin of something is bad, then what comes from it cannot be trusted and should be avoided.” Slick said this is like saying you cannot trust the directions that were given to you by someone who was a thief. His being a thief does not mean his directions are bad. Likewise, just because a word originated in pagan history does not mean the word in modern times is now somehow ungodly or tainted.
Are Easter bunnies and egg hunts okay in the world of Christendom? For many, yes they are while for others it is an unacceptable practice. How do you feel about it? This is a question that each person has to answer for themselves – What do you believe?
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)