Easter is the second biggest candy-eating holiday of the year for Americans. The most popular non-chocolate holiday related candy in the United States is Marshmallow Peeps. It is the fifth most popular holiday for sending holiday-related cards, with 57 million of them exchanged annually in the U.S. The most popular chocolate egg worldwide is Cadbury's Creme Egg. Amazingly, Americans consume 16 BILLION jellybeans during the Easter holiday.
The history of how we got this holiday is the history of how and why Christianity changed its foundational first century A.D. beliefs and practices to something entirely different. The early church abandoned its annual observance of the Christian Passover, instituted by Jesus himself according to the Bible, and adopted a celebration of his resurrection known as Easter Sunday.
When did it begin?
Briefly, the introduction of Easter Sunday first began in Palestine after Roman Emperor Hadrian ruthlessly crushed a Jewish rebellion known as the Barkokeba revolt (132-135 A.D.). After his victory Hadrian rebuilt the ruins of Jerusalem and expelled from it Jews and Jewish-Christians. He also enforced a policy prohibiting the practice of anything that resembled the Jewish religion (e.g. the keeping of a Christian Passover, Sabbath on Saturday, etc.). Jerusalem's Jewish-Christian bishops and members were replaced, as Eusebius tells us, with Gentile members and leaders (Eusebius: The Church History 4,6,4; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, vol. 1, page 178).
The new leaders of the church changed the traditional date of the Christian Passover (Nisan 14) to SUNDAY in order to separate and distance themselves from Jews and Jewish-Christians. Soon, many Gentile-Christian churches, including the church at Rome, adopted keeping Passover on a Sunday.
As the influence of Jewish Christians diminished in the church, the power of Gentile Christians increased. As they gained control of the church, the Gentile Christians began to replace the Biblical symbols and ceremonies of Passover with pagan symbols and myths. Passover became "Easter," which derives from Eastre, Eostre, Eostra, and Ostara.
Jesus replaced by a bunny
The influence of non-Christian religious practices on the church cause the traditional Passover symbol of a lamb to be replaced by a rabbit. In pagan religions a rabbit became a symbol of fertility and sexuality, presumably because they have lots of sex and can procreate rapidly (one need only view Playboy magazine's logo to see a modern version of this linkage).
The history of Easter and the egg goes as far back as ancient Egypt and other civilizations. The pagans believed all creation came out of a giant egg. Believers in God inculcated eggs into the holiday to symbolize both life and death.
There are many folk customs in Europe connected to Easter eggs. Painted eggs had symbols such as crosses and even swastikas. A favorite game children played around the holiday was hunting eggs in gardens. With the advent of the modern age, with its expanding commercialism, came wrapped chocolate eggs.
First made in Europe in the early 1800s, chocolate eggs are the most popular candy. Easter baskets are mentioned in German folklore. They believed a white rabbit would leave on Easter, for children who were good, eggs that were colored. German settlers brought the tradition to the United States in the 18th century.
Easter Bonnets are a throwback to the days when the people denied themselves the pleasure of wearing fine clothes for the duration of Lent. Jellybeans did not become an tradition until the 1930s.
Does it MATTER?
Most of the Internet sites that offer historical information about Easter and its symbols freely admit to their non-Christian (pagan) roots. Why do people still celebrate the religious holiday even after they "know the facts?" It all comes down to one simple question. DOES IT MATTER?
Does it matter that the church adopted and transformed an ancient festival used to worship FALSE gods to worship the God Who made everything? Does it matter to HIM what customs and symbols are used to worship and honor Him as long as those who do them are sincere and have a good attitude?
The book of Exodus has one of the best Biblical examples of what God thinks about being worshipped using any of the customs and practices found in the worship of false or pagan gods. We pick up the story right after God has used Moses and Aaron to free the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. The Israelites are temporarily camping near Mount Sinai, waiting for Moses to return after God commanded him to go up the mountain (where Moses would receive the Ten Commandments engraved in stone). As time passes without the appearance of Moses, the Israelites grow a little restless.
"Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him" (Exodus 32:1-2, NKJV)
Note one very critical, but easy to overlook, fact concerning the above account. The Israelites, through Aaron's leadership, adapted the symbols (e.g. the idols) and ceremonies (uncontrolled revelry and orgies - verse 6) used to worship Egyptian gods to worship the TRUE God! The Bible does NOT state the Israelites used pagan practices to celebrate a festival to Baal, Molech or even any of the false Egyptian gods. In their minds, the children of Israel were having a "feast TO THE LORD!" (Exodus 32:4- 6). Now, what did GOD think about the Israelites "borrowing" pagan symbols and ceremonies to use to worship HIM?
"And the Lord said to Moses, "Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves . . . '"
"'Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them AND I MAY CONSUME THEM . . . '" (Exodus 32:7, 10, NKJV)
God reserves the right to dictate how to worship him and the symbols and ceremonies man uses to honor Him. God does not like or approve of bunnies, eggs, sunrise services and alike used to serve or celebrate Him.
The origin of Easter Sunday with its symbols are rooted in the worship of false gods. Those who celebrate it and consider themselves believers in the God of the Bible need to take a prayerful look at their observance of the holiday.