Every now and they you’ll come across the claim
that the date of Easter was fixed in order to wrest ill-converted pagans
away from their druidic habits.
The evidence for this claim lies first in the name:
Easter is a corruption of Eöster, the name of an Anglo-Saxon deity,
regarding whom a feast may or may not have been celebrated in England
at around the same time that we now celebrate Easter.
There is also the testimony of the Venerable Bede,
a historian of Christianity in England, that this is the origin of the name.
The main difficulty with this claim is that it’s wrong.
There’s really no way to sugarcoat it, minimize it,
or euphemize it: the claim is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Wronger than saying 1+1=0, because that actually is true
in a field of characteristic 2. If you don’t understand what that means,
think of a clock that with only two “hours”: 0 and 1.
What would be the time one hour after one o’clock?
1 + 1 = 0, of course.
First piece of evidence
The first piece of evidence comes from the name of Easter
in languages where Christianity is at least as old as any English tongue,
and usually older.
Consider the following tree, starting from the more ancient churches
and proceeding to their daughters:
- Greek: Πασχα (Paskha)
- Ge'ez (an Ethiopian tongue): ፋሲካ (Fasika)
- Latin: Pascha
- Italian: Pasqua
- French: Pâques
- Spanish: Pascua
- Welsh: Pasg
- Dutch: Pasen
- Scandinavian tongues: påske, påsk, páskar, páskir
As a cultured, intelligent reader, you’ll have noticed the pattern:
pretty much everywhere in the Mediterranean world —
and much of the non-Mediterranean world, to boot —
“Easter” is called by a slight variant of
was Jesus’ language
“Pascha” meaning “Passover”
, so that “Pascha”
was the word that He would have used for “Passover”.
That’s why Easter continues to be celebrated at roughly the same time
as the Jewish Passover.
Only someone whose knowledge of Easter was limited
to a very small subset of Christianity
would think that the Christian feast of “Easter”
came from the name of an Anglo-Saxon, Norse, or Germanic god(dess).
There was no god(dess) Eöster in the Mediterranean world,
but there were an awful lot of people who decided to follow a first-century Jew
whose first followers claimed he resurrected shortly after the Passover.
Second piece of evidence
A somewhat embarrassing piece of evidence
predates the second arrival of Christianity
the “second” arrival.
Christianity first arrived in England during Roman times,
and grew to dominance until the Anglo-Saxon invasions.
The latter pushed the Romanized Britons into enclaves in Wales and Cornwall,
and remained obstinate in their warlike, pagan ways until
well after the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury.
There was a dispute among Mediterranean Christians
that predated even the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
In the second century there was a not-so-polite disagreement
between Western and Eastern Christians
as to when one should celebrate Easter.✢As usual, the Westerners were right.
History remembers the disagreement as the
, inasmuch as one group
(the “Quartodecimans”, imagine that)
insisted that Christians should celebrate Easter
on the same date every year,
the 14th day of a particular month,✚Yes, fellow language nerds, that’s right:
“Quartodeciman” is from the Latin word for “Fourteenth”.
And in a more cultured, educated age, someone besides us might
according to a simple calendar,
much as Christmas is always celebrated on the 25th day of a month.
The other group felt that Easter, which celebrates Christ’s resurrection,
should be celebrated on the Sunday after Passover,
inasmuch as Christ resurrected on a Sunday✝For instance: “On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.”
— John 20⋅1
Both groups claimed that their tradition came from apostolic practice,
and in the second century it’s quite possible that both were correct.
As anyone who’s tried to figure out when Easter is will notice,
the Quartodecimans eventually lost the argument,
which is why Easter isn’t the same day every year.
What matters for our purposes, however,
is that this disagreement took place in the second century,
long before the Anglo-Saxons noticed Britannia and decided to set up shop there,
and thus long before “Easter” became a word, let alone a myth
that Christians timed their feast to wean converts from a pagan celebration.