A week after Easter, I am still seeing references to a supposedly pagan origin related to Ishtar and I want to set the record straight.
The Burney Relief, also called Queen of the Night Relief is currently housed in the British Museum in London. It originates from southern Iraq and is nearly 4,000 years old. Ishtar was the Goddess of love,war, fertility and sex. Her symbols were the lion, the gate and the eight-pointed star, not the bunny or the egg, as many are trying to point out.
The only languages in which the name for this holiday sounds like “Easter” are English and German; in most other languages it comes from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from the Hebrew Pesach, meaning Passover. Ishtar is pronounced “Ish-tar”, not “Eas-ter.”
Constantine didn’t “change Easter.” He did, however have a role in deciding when it would be celebrated each year. Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (both of which follow the cycle of the sun and the seasons). Instead, the date for Easter is determined on a lunisolar calendar similar to the Hebrew calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox.
Some claim that Jesus’ resurrection was celebrated to coincide with fertility festivals which occurred then. The truth is, the resurrection coincided with the time of the Passover. They early church in the east celebrated it at the same time as Jewish Passover. The western church started celebrating it the Sunday of the first full moon after this, and so it would never be celebrated on the vernal equinox.
The Christians of Mesopotamia made a practice of dying eggs red in memory of the blood shed by Christ when he died on the cross. In other words, eggs dyed red were symbolic of the Crucifixion, not the Resurrection. In later traditions the egg is also a symbol of the empty tomb.
The “Easter Bunny” is first mentioned in a writing by French doctor and botanist Georg Franck von Frankenau titled About Easter Eggs in 1682. Later in the 1800′s, German immigrants brought the tradition of hiding eggs for the children to the United States. The story was that the bunnies were responsible for hiding the eggs. It was just a fun thing to do with the children, not some pagan sex and fertility rite.