Why is Easter Called Easter?

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Like many other Christian holidays, Easter was positioned in the year to coincide with the native Spring festivals in the lands Christianity was converting. Easter changes dates each year and always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon of Spring. While everyone knows, the holiday celebrates the reported resurrection of Jesus Christ, few people know how the holiday got its name.

Most scholars accept that Easter was named for a Germanic goddess named Eostre or Ostara. She appears in no known Germanic myths, but is mentioned by the revered 8th Century monk Bede in his work The Reckoning of Time. In chapter 15, he states the following (translated into modern English). Parentheses are mine.

Eosturmonath (April) has a name which is now translated "Paschal (Passover) month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.

The name caught on primarily because Bede was so revered in his time and afterward. So, a goddess mentioned only once gave her name to a holiday celebrated by more than one billion Christians each year. The name Easter is mainly used in The United States, UK, and Germany. Most of the rest of the world still refers to it as Passover translated into their local tongue.

Interestingly, a 19th Century Scottish minister published a book titled The Two Babylons. In it, he linked Eostre/Ostara to the Mesopotamian goddess Astarte (aka Ishtar aka Inanna). Linguists reject this connection, but all of these goddesses are tied to Spring and rebirth.

From a mythological standpoint, the connection is solid. Inanna mirrored Jesus' descent into the underworld, where she remained and then was resurrected by the sacrifice of Dumuzi. This is thought to be the oldest rendition of this universal story of a hero making this journey and returning to the land of the living to grant new life.

Whether Eostre/Ostara is a direct link to Inanna/Ishtar is unknown. We don't even know for sure what the festival for Eostre/Ostara celebrated other than an assumption by the date that it was a Spring festival of rebirth.

In any case, this is how Easter got its name. If you're one who celebrates Easter, may you have a day of peace and spiritual rebirth.

Ray Davis
for 6 Sense Media

Resources:
The Sumerian Origins of the Easter Story
Eostre - Wikipedia
Why Is Easter Called Easter and Other Little Known Facts about the Holiday