Easter has come and gone once again. It is a time that probably affects the entire world. People are on the move—some for religious reasons, others for pleasure and relaxation. The concept of Easter being a contentious subject, and a prickly pear situation for many, has led me to write this article.
As what some of the months in our yearly calendar are named after pagan gods (e.g. January is named after the god Janus, and March after the god Mars) so also the days of the week have a pagan origin (e.g. Thursday is named after Thor, the god of thunder). In Afrikaans Thursday is known as “Donderdag” meaning “day of thunder”.
Similarly, we find that Easter was originally named after the goddess Eastre or Ostara. She was the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility. The presence of the rabbit or hare during Easter was attributed largely to the fact that they were prolific breeders. They could have a few litters in a year and became a symbol of fertility welcoming spring, the season of new life and abundance. It is also known that eggs have been considered to be symbols of new life and fertility through the ages. Many ancient cultures used eggs during their spring festivals.
“In ancient Anglo-Saxon myth, Ostara is the personification of the rising sun. In that capacity she is associated with the spring and is considered to be a fertility goddess. She is the friend of all children and to amuse them she changed her pet bird into a rabbit. This rabbit brought forth brightly colored eggs, which the goddess gave to the children as gifts. From her name and rites the festival of Easter is derived.” (Encyclopedia Mythica)
The following is an extract from an article written by Warwick Taylor on hot cross buns:
The custom of eating spiced buns on Good Friday is believed to have been introduced to England by the Romans, but the tradition can also be traced back to the Saxon goddess Eastre, after whom Easter was named. Special dishes, including a spiced bun, were prepared in her honour during the annual spring festival to ensure fertility and protection in the coming year. Similar spicy sweet breads decorated with a simple cross were baked in ancient Greece and Egypt, and used as religious offerings.
This ritual was later adopted by the Christian church and became a common practice of the Easter celebration in England. In Tudor times the sale of these buns was banned by law, except on Good Friday, at Christmas and at burials. The fact that they were generally sold hot led to the later incorporation of the word “hot” into the name.
It has been recorded that in the 12th century monks baked the buns and placed the cross on them as a symbol of the Christian faith. It was believed that hanging a hot cross bun in the house on Good Friday offered protection from bad luck in the coming year.
It is believed by many researchers that Eastre or Ostara goes by many names in different cultures and she is in fact the same goddess that is mentioned in the Bible as the Queen of Heaven. (Jeremiah 7:18) It is also believed that the hot cross buns we know today actually originate from the cakes of bread that were offered to her by the people of Judah when their hearts were turned from God.
Through the centuries, during the month of April, Christians have been commemorating the death and burial of Jesus Christ on Good Friday and celebrating His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Added to this, the eating of hot cross buns, Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies form part of the festivities. It seems that with the passing of time we have developed a fruit salad of Christianity and Paganism. Is this all wrong? Should we celebrate Easter? Are we actually paying homage to Eastre when we eat hot cross buns, Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies? Should we change the names of the months and days of the week that are named after false gods? (In Korea the months are numbered and not named.) Where does one draw the line? There are many different schools of thought concerning this prickly matter.
What are my thoughts? Let me attempt to briefly expound without being long-winded or tedious:
Firstly, all the traditions and festivities mentioned above are what Jesus called “the rules taught by men” in Matthew 15:9. The problems came in when the people placed their traditions above God and his commands, and in the process disobeyed Him. They honoured Him with their lips but their hearts were far away. I believe this is the crux of the matter. There will always be different cultures and traditions. As we participate in, and partake of these however, we need to ask ourselves how our involvement affects our relationship with Christ. Does it improve, hamper or actually have no effect on our relationship with Him.
I quote Romans 14:5, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
This indicates that what is right for one person is not necessarily right for another. The emphasis is on being fully persuaded in your mind that what you are doing is right for you, and that your action or belief is in no way impeding your relationship with God.
We read in Colossians 2:16-17 “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality however, is found in Christ.”
Christ has come and has completed it all. His last words on the cross were, “it is finished.” Nothing more is therefore necessary for us to do except to follow Him in love and obedience in our daily lives. In fact the only celebration that Jesus encourages us to continue with till his return is the breaking of bread (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). However, this does by no means mean that you cannot, or may not participate in any other celebration or tradition. You are free in Him to make your own choices and no man has the authority to tell you otherwise. Therefore do as your heart compels you, for if Jesus Christ lives within you, He will guide you in all your ways and you will walk in His freedom.
As a child I experienced Easter as a time of hunting for painted eggs hidden away in our garden. It was fun but I never knew why I was doing it. I remember hot cross buns were bought before the Easter weekend but to my great disappointment we were only allowed to eat them on the Sunday. When I unhappily asked why, I was told because Christ had risen on the Sunday. That was the tradition in our house. I was never informed as to how everything fitted together, and I never understood what hot cross buns and painted eggs had to do with Jesus. It was only in adulthood after I had committed my life to Christ that I began to really question these things, and then discovered the truth and the origin of all these traditions.
We all know the saying “knowledge is power” and in Matthew15:6 Jesus said, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” If we mix the truth with our traditions and are unable to discern the difference or separate the two, we will not understand or walk in the fullness of God’s promises for us. As Christians who truly seek to walk in the freedom of Christ we need to know the truth, and it is our task to teach and inform our children because it is the truth that sets us free.
In conclusion therefore, regarding traditions similar to the ones mentioned above, my husband and I use the following guidelines, and it gives us peace:
- Understand the origin of the relevant tradition.
- Question whether your participation in that tradition would improve, hamper, or in fact have no effect on your relationship with Jesus Christ.
- After consideration of the above two aspects, decide whether it is really important enough for you to participate in that tradition.
And so I end off with the words of Jesus Christ. He said in John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
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© Lorna Kirstein