Why Easter is Not a Pagan Holiday

Recently on The Cale Clarke Show, Cale debunked the popular myth that makes its rounds every year on social media that Easter is in fact a pagan holiday.

He began by referencing an image that you may have seen on Instagram or Twitter that portrays a pagan idol, and below the picture, there is a caption that reads, “This is Ishtar, pronounced ‘Easter’.” According to the info provided with the graphic, Easter was actually a celebration of this Germanic goddess:

Easter was originally the celebration of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex. Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?). After Constantine decided to Christianize the Empire, Easter was changed to represent Jesus. But at its roots, Easter (which is how you pronounce Ishtar) is all about celebrating fertility and sex.

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Cale said that what gives credence to this argument in the minds of a lot of people is the idea that the Church takes pagan practices and symbols and “baptize” them by adopting them to fit into the contexts of the faith. Granted, Christians have done this in the past and as long as the faith is not being changed to fit the pagan aspects, there’s nothing wrong with that. “Heck, that’s what God does with each one of us, right? Each one of us God takes from paganism and baptizes us and brings us into His family; makes us sons and daughters of God,” said Cale.

But is that the same argument that this argument for Ishtar is making? In an article by John Sorenson of Catholic Answers, Sorenson contends that this claim is inaccurate, primarily because of the lack of historical evidence for any of it. Without any in-depth records or documents, historians know very little about the goddess Eostre (the connection between Easter and Ishtar), save for one piece of writing. Funnily enough, it was written by a Catholic.

St. Bede, an English Catholic monk, wrote, “Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated ‘Paschal month’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance (The Reckoning of Time, 725 AD).”

There are several things worth noting about St. Bede’s writing. Firstly, it’s worth reiterating that this is the only piece of writing in human history that mentions the goddess Eostre. Secondly, as Sorenson mentions, it’s more likely that St. Bede was mistaken about this adoption for several reasons. Eostre does not appear in any of the surrounding mythologies as she would if she were a goddess.

Thirdly, If she was a local goddess, why would the Catholic Church adopt and Christianize a springtime celebration of hers? And fourthly, making the jump from a “goddess” named Eostre, who may or may not have actually been part of a pagan religion, to Ishtar, the Babylonian deity isn’t logical. Eostre likely comes from Eastre, which meant springtime or dawn in Old English. Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess is the goddess of many things, including fertility and sex, and the supporters of the Ishtar theory have conveniently chosen those two devotions to match springtime and life.

As if that wasn’t enough, Easter is only referred to as such by the English world. Everywhere else, it’s called Pascha, or some derivative of that. And bunnies and eggs are not symbols associated with Easter everywhere in the world. For many other countries, they have other traditions. Historians think that bunnies and eggs may have been brought to other countries by German migrants, just like the Christmas Tree and milk and cookies for Santa Claus. It was a way for children to engage with the holidays.

And finally, Sorenson addressed the claim that Constantine “Christianized the Empire” and made Easter “represent Jesus.” Completely false. Constantine did not Christianize the empire. He signed the Edict of Milan, which prohibited the persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire, and he asked the bishops at the Council of Nicaea to settle the Arian controversy and when Easter should be celebrated.

At the end of the day, historical information that comes from secular sources often needs to be read with some skepticism because it lacks the full truth. These sources will assume that their audience won’t double-check what they say. When you read things that make grand claims or assumptions, do your research and get historical context before you take it as gospel.

For more segments like this, tune in to The Cale Clarke Show on weekdays at 5pm CT

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.