A Brief History of Easter

By Tim Lambert

Some people think the word Easter comes from the Anglo-Saxon name for April, Eostermunath. According to a Saxon scholar called Bede Easter was named after a goddess called Eostre. But he is the only writer who mentions such a goddess so it’s not certain if his claim is true.

In the early years of Christianity, there was a dispute over the date of Easter. In 325 the Nicean Council decided it should be on the first Sunday after the full moon after the Spring Equinox. That is why the date of Easter changes each year.

In the early 18th century German Christians called Moravians began the tradition of a sunrise service to remember the women who went to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty. In the late 18th century the sunrise service was introduced into America.

Friday is the day of the week when Jesus was crucified. It is called Good Friday because good meant holy. On that day we eat hot cross buns. The origins of hot cross buns are obscure but in the 18th century, people sold hot cross buns in the street from stalls.

The Easter bunny was originally a hare because hares were associated with Spring. German immigrants took the tradition of a hare who brings colored eggs to children at Easter to the USA. Because people in the USA were unfamiliar with hares the Easter hare became a rabbit.

In the Middle Ages Christians were forbidden to eat eggs during Lent (the forty days before Easter). Not surprisingly people were keen to eat eggs when Easter arrived! In the Middle Ages people painted Easter eggs red but by the 18th century, people bought artificial eggs made of various materials to give as gifts at Easter. (Sometimes the artificial eggs contained gifts). Chocolate Easter eggs were first made in the 19th century.

Last revised 2024