Pushback on Easter Eggs

15 April 2017

I recently received an email that caused me to reexamine the matter of Easter eggs:

"Easter eggs are an important part of Easter and no celebration is possible without these beautifully crafted eggs. But, how did Easter eggs start? While there are claims that Easter eggs have a pagan origin, sufficient evidence has not been found to support these claims. It was in the eighteenth century when the pagan link between Easter eggs and a goddess named Ostara, or Eostre in German, was established through Jakob Grimm."


I wonder why he tried to link Easter eggs and a pagan goddess together?

 

This was my response:

The source of that quote is incorrect.  I think some folks have gotten tired of having their noses rubbed in the facts and they are pushing back with counter claims to ease their consciences.

Jacob Grimm (of Grimms' Fairy Tales fame) is not the earliest source connecting Easter eggs to pagan origins.  Although he is commonly quoted, the earliest source is "Saint" Bede, who lived in the 7th century.  Bede is the only native of Great Britain to ever be recognized by a Pope as a "Doctor of the Church" (so he's kind of a big deal among Catholic academics).  He had access to a number of earlier sources dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries that are no longer available to us today.  Bede describes Eostre (whose name gives us both Ostara and Easter in English) as a goddess with fertility associations, which connects her to both rabbits and eggs (pagan symbols of fertility).

On Eostre/Eastre:

Easter, from Old English eastre, Easter, from Germanic *austrōn (meaning "dawn") which derives from Indo-European root aus- (meaning "to shine")1  The modern English word "east" also derives from this root.

The name Ēostre has the same linguistic origins with numerous other dawn goddesses found among Indo-European peoples. These linguistic connections lead to the reconstruction of an Indo-European dawn goddess; the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture details an Indo-European "goddess of the dawn" that is supported by the evidence of cognate names and the similarity of mythic representation of the dawn goddess among various Indo-European groups.  All of this evidence permits us to posit an Indo-European *haéusōs 'goddess of dawn' who was characterized as a "reluctant" bringer of light for which she is punished. In three of the Indo-European language stocks (Baltic, Greek and Indo-Iranian), the existence of a Indo-European 'goddess of the dawn' is given additional linguistic support in that she is designated the 'daughter of heaven'".2

On painted eggs:

Noruz is the Persian New Year which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years and predates the reign of Cyrus the Great, whose rule marks the beginning of Persian history.  Haft Seen is a traditional table setting for Noruz which includes greenery and decorated eggs (for fertility).  In modern Persia (Iran), the colored eggs are placed on the Haft Seen table and mothers eat one egg for each child she has.

On bunnies:

In some early cultures, the nocturnal hare was actually considered a symbol of the moon. In addition to feeding at night, the hare's gestation period is approximately 28 days -- the same as a full lunar cycle.  In European folklore, the rabbit connection to eggs is one based on confusion.  In the wild, hares birth their young in what is known as a "form" -- basically, a nest for bunnies.  When the hares abandoned a form, it was sometimes taken over by plovers, who would then lay their eggs in it.  The locals would then find eggs in the hare's form.3

The character of the "Easter bunny" first appeared in 16th-century German writings, which said that if well-behaved children built a nest out of their caps or bonnets, they would be rewarded with colored eggs.  This legend became part of American folklore in the 18th century, when an influx of Germans emigrated to the U.S.4

Today, Easter is a huge commercial venture with Americans spending over $18 billion in 2017.5

And the last time I checked, Easter, Easter bunnies, and Easter eggs still aren't found anywhere in the Bible. :)

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Footnotes

1. The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, Calvert Watkins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000, taken 4/15/2017 from https://books.google.com/books?id=4IHbQgz1nZYC  [back]
2. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, J.P. Mallory, Douglas Q. Adams, Taylor & Francis, 1997, pages 148-149 [back]
3. Taken 4/15/2017 from ThoughtCo.com [back]
4. Taken 4/15/2017 from ThoughtCo.com [back]
5. Taken 4/15/2017 from http://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/americans-will-spend-how-much-easter-candy-year-n745956  [back]
Last modified on 15 April 2017
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