Some people avoid any connection with Easter. It is to them an unauthorized special holy day at best, and a pagan holiday at worst.
Some people place special emphasis on Easter Sunday. They attend the worship assembly, when they ordinarily do not. (Preachers sometimes speak of C.E.O. members and C.M.E. members. C.E.O. members attend on Christmas and Easter only. C.M.E. members add Mother’s Day. I hope that you are not this type of member. However, Easter Sunday does typically draw larger than average crowds to many local churches). They dress in new clothes.
How should Christians view this day? Should it be treated as a special holy day?
What is the origin of Easter? (1) Many believe that it has roots in paganism. The New Book of Knowledge says, “Easter is believed to have taken its English name from the Teutonic Festival celebrating the return of spring each year, which was called Eostur” (1985, Vol. 5, p. 35). The Australian Broadcast Corporation says, “Easter actually began as a pagan festival celebrating spring in the Northern Hemisphere, long before the advent of Christianity… in English – speaking countries… Easter takes its name from Anglo-Saxon England… Eostre was the goddess of spring and renewal… in Germany the festival is called Ostern (Origin of Easter by Penny Travers, abc.net.au). It is suggested that some of the traditions long pre-date Christianity. The New Book of Knowledge says, “The custom of a sunrise service on Easter Sunday can be traced to ancient spring festivals that celebrated the rising sun… one of the best-known Easter symbols is the egg, which has symbolized renewed life since ancient days… The Persians and the Egyptians also colored eggs and ate them during their new year’s celebration, which came in the spring” (p. 35-36). The Easter bunny may also come from paganism. Time Magazine says, “The exact origins of the Easter bunny are clouded in mystery. One theory is that the symbol of the rabbit stems from pagan tradition, specifically the festival of Eostre – a goddess of fertility whose animal symbol was a bunny. Rabbits, known for their energetic breeding, have traditionally symbolized fertility (What’s the Origin of the Easter Bunny? By Alexandra Sifferlin, time.com). (2) It may also have a root in Judaism. The New Book of Knowledge says, “The French word for Easter, Paques, the Italian Pasqua, and the Spanish Pascua all came from the Hebrew word Pesah, a Jewish Feast celebrated on the night of the first full moon in the spring season. The Feast of Pesah (in English, Passover) marks the freedom of the ancient Israelites from the Egyptians, who had enslaved them” (ibid). (3) This day has become connected with Jesus. Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the first day of the week (Matthew 28:1-ff; Mark 16:1-ff; Luke 24:1-ff; John 20:1-ff), following the Passover (Matthew 26:2, 17, 18, 19; Mark 14:1, 12, 14, 16; Luke 22:1, 7, 8, 11, 13, 15; John 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14). It is theorized by some that ancient traditions were re-purposed. It is not difficult to see how the egg could come to symbolize hope and rebirth. It is said that some ancient writers (e.g. Pliny the Elder) thought that rabbits could reproduce without mating, and therefore it was associated with Mary (The Surprising Origin of the Easter Bunny, catholic.org). The wearing of new clothes on Easter is thought by some to represent a new life in Christ (Now Easter Finery has Deeper Meaning by Carla Hinton, newsok.com). This appears to be a unique tradition in Christianity.
There are those who argue that Easter has no pagan roots at all. I have not been convinced.
There was an early controversy in church history, known as the Paschal controversy. The controversy arose after the second century. Some churches in the east, particularly in Asia Minor, wanted to observe Easter on the same day, Nisan 14th, that the Jewish Passover occurred. “They began a fast on the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month, the day of the crucifixion – and then celebrated the resurrection three days later. This made Easter fall on different days of the week” (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom p. 121). Some churches in the west insisted that Easter should only be observed on the first day of the week. The council of Nicea in 325 decreed that Easter should be observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox (For more info see: Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 404-ff; Paschal Controversies, Britannica.com). The Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox church have different dates for Easter. This difference is due to calendars used. The Roman Catholics use the Gregorian calendar. The Orthodox church has remained with the Julian calendar (Calculating the Easter Date, timeanddate.com). These controversies are needless. The Bible never instructs us to observe Easter.
How should the Christian view Easter? (1) As a pagan holiday? I know of no one who is trying to worship Eostre, or any other god. Intent matters. (2) As a Jewish holiday? Paul wrote, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). (3) As a special holy day? There is no indication in Scripture that there is to be an annual special holy day called Easter. We read, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). It was “on the first day of the week when the disciples came together to break bread” (Acts 20:7). Every week has a first day. If you come on “Easter Sunday” we are glad to see you. However, we would encourage you to be with us for worship each and every first day.
Is there anything wrong with egg hunts and chocolate bunnies? I do not believe that there is. There is nothing inherently wrong with these things. No one to my knowledge is in worship of a pagan god. It is more of a seasonal holiday to celebrate the coming of spring, and playtime with the young. If these things bother your conscience, then I suggest you avoid them (Romans 14:23). However, be cautious not to bind this on others who consider it nothing but harmless fun.
Is there anything wrong with telling our children about the resurrection on this occasion? Certainly not. He was “raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25 E.S.V.). God has “begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 cf. 3:21); without this we have no hope (1 Corinthians 15).
Doesn’t the Bible mention Easter? The word “Easter” appears once in the K.J.V. in Acts 12:4. The reference is to the Jewish Passover. Herod certainly was not observing an Easter that celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. The Greek word Pascha appears 29 times in the New Testament. 28 of these times the K.J.V. renders it “Passover.” Why the K.J.V. rendered it “Easter” in this one passage is unknown. Robert Taylor Jr. writes, “It is interesting to observe that the Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles says that Easter referred to ‘The Jewish Passover – 1611’ (p. 579). The Greek word is Pascha and refers to the Passover feast or the days of unleavened bread. The context makes this crystal clear” (Taylor, Challenging Dangers of Modern Versions, p. 123).