Is Easter a pagan holiday? Should we call it Passover instead?
I am an American pastor in Thailand. This season I have been approached about our Easter celebration being pagan and reflecting too much of the Catholic doctrine. Suggestion has been made to drop the term Easter and adopt the Passover as the true form of worship. Can you illuminate for me any biblical reasons for or against this. I read John Oakes’ article on Easter. Any biblical support as to whether an international church
should celebrate Passover or Easter would be great.
The celebration we call Easter was not begun as a pagan holiday. This is one of those common beliefs (that Easter was a pagan holiday which Christians adapted to their beliefs) out there which are not supported at all by the evidence. What we now call Easter was begun either in the very early second century or, more likely in the first century. It is likely the apostles themselves approved of celebrating the resurrection of Christ on a special day.
The holiday is not mentioned in the Bible, so we can argue that it is not biblical. For this reason, some rather conservative Christians refuse to celebrate or even mention Easter. I personally would not go that far, but I do agree that the holiday is not strictly biblical. In any case, it is for this reason that I cannot give you any biblical passages for or against celebrating Easter. The celebration is not mentioned in Scripture.
Now, it is true that the Roman Catholic Church developed what we call Easter into some elaborate traditions and ceremonies. Add to that the fact that in the Middle Ages a good amount of truly pagan practices were added to the simple Christian celebration of the resurrection (Easter bunnies, Easter eggs and other things associated with pagan fertility rites).
I say let us not let the Roman Catholic Church or the pagan practices spoil our opportunity to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Let us take back Easter and use it as an opportunity to let the world know about the resurrection of our Savior.
About the name, arguing over words is generally not productive. However, that is up to you. Easter is not Passover. The Passover is a remembrance of death, not of resurrection. What is called “Good Friday” is closer to Passover. Besides, the traditional date of Easter does not even fall on the same weekend as Passover, so calling Easter Passover does not really solve any dilemma. In fact, our Jewish friends might be legitimately offended if we call the Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Passover.
Whether you celebrate Easter is up to you, but I suggest you not let false claims that it is of pagan origins be the reason you do not celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. If there are overly “Catholic” parts of some Easter celebrations, then simply do not include such practices and do what the primitive church did, which is to use the date to remember the resurrection.