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Arne Teigland, Published May 10 2009

‘Easter’ may be about calendar

Jane Ahlin raised a significant issue in her column on Easter Sunday when she quoted a question from her 4-year-old granddaughter about the relationship of the Easter bunny and eggs to Jesus’ crucifixion. Leaving that problem aside, I would like to pick up on the idea that Easter takes its name from a pagan goddess.

If someone actually goes to Google, as was obliquely suggested, she will find there is a second point of view. Rather than finding that it is an established fact that “the ancient Saxons worshipped the goddess of spring called ‘Eostre,’ ” she will find that there is some doubt that such a goddess was ever worshipped. She will find there is only one historical reference that claims that “Eostre” even existed.

The Venerable Bede (who wrote the first history of Christianity in England around 700 C.E.) is the first person who mentions “Eostre.” Every subsequent reference to her is based on that one claim.

In a recent online article (“Was Easter borrowed from a pagan holiday”) Anthony McRoy, a fellow of the British Society for Middle East Studies, quotes Professor Ronald Hutton (a historian of British paganism and occultism) who claims, “It falls into a category of interpretations which Bede admitted to be his own, rather than generally agreed or proven fact.” Hutton is also skeptical of Bede’s “sketchy knowledge of other pagan festivals.” McRoy goes on point out that the name of the holiday may rather come from the Anglo-Saxon name of the month in which it usually falls. Again quoting Hutton: “The Anglo-Saxon Estor-monath simply meant ‘the month of opening’ or ‘the month of beginnings,’ ” In McRoy’s words, “A contemporary analogy can be found in the way Americans sometimes refer to the December period as ‘the holidays’ in connection with Christmas and Hanukkah” (And one might add Thanksgiving.)

Therefore, Ahlin’s granddaughter (or readers of The Forum) might actually be misled if told that the word “Easter” has more to do with bunnies than Jesus. In fact it may have nothing to do with either Christianity or a fertility symbol, but may simply have something to do with the calendar.