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. Amazingly, Americans consume 16 billion jellybeans during the Easter holiday.
The origin of Easter 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.
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.
Hadrian's victory emboldened him to enforce 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 with Gentile members and leaders (Eusebius: The Church History 4,6,4; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 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.
Replaced by a bunny
The influence of non-Christian religious practices on the church caused the traditional Passover symbol of a lamb to be replaced by an Easter rabbit. In pagan religions, a rabbit became a symbol of fertility and sexuality, presumably because they have lots of sex and can procreate rapidly.
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 the simple fact that, to them, it does not matter. The question that needs to be addresses is whether it matters to God!
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 gods. This example is directly applicable to holidays like Easter. We pick up the story right after God has used Moses and Aaron to free the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery.
"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 and in relationship to Easter. The Israelites, through Aaron's leadership, adapted the symbols (e.g. the idols) and ceremonies (uncontrolled revelry and orgies - Exodus 32:6) 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 or any of the false Egyptian gods. In their minds, they were having a feast to the Lord (Exodus 32:4 - 6)! What did God think about the Israelites "borrowing" pagan ceremonies and using them to worship Him? Did their warm feelings and sincerity in what they were doing make any difference?
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).
The origin of Easter Sunday with its symbols are rooted in the worship of false (pagan) gods. God ultimately reserves the right to dictate how humans worship him and the symbols and ceremonies we use to honor Him. Those who celebrate Easter and consider themselves Christians need to take a prayerful look at their observance of the holiday.