What Is the Meaning of Easter and Why Do We Celebrate it?

BST Editorial Staff
What Is the Meaning of Easter and Why Do We Celebrate it?

Easter is coming up a lot faster than most of us have anticipated. For many of us, we may think about Easter bunnies and colorful eggs that cover our front yards. But what is the meaning of Easter from the Bible, and why do Christians celebrate this holiday?

More than 2,000 years ago, on Resurrection Sunday, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ overcame the grave. He lived a perfect and blameless life and paid the penalty for our sins by dying for them on the cross.

But the story doesn’t end there. Christ overcomes death. Because of his victory over the grave, we have the opportunity to experience eternal life with him if we come into a saving relationship with him.

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What is the Meaning of Easter?

So what is Easter? And why do Christians place such a high importance on this holiday? Susan E. Richardson gives us an excellent summary in her article on Crosswalk:

“Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb on the third day after his crucifixion. Easter is the fulfilled prophecy of the Messiah who would be persecuted, die for our sins, and rise on the third day (Isaiah 53). Remembering the resurrection of Jesus is a way to renew daily hope that we have victory over sin. According to the New Testament, Easter is three days after the death of Jesus on the cross. Easter follows a period of fasting called Lent, in which many churches set aside time for repentance and remembrance. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Good Friday, the day of Jesus' crucifixion. The 40 day period was established by Pope Gregory 1 using the 40-day pattern of Israel, Moses, Elijah and Jesus' time in the wilderness.” —Susan E. Richardson.

Susan lays some necessary groundwork for the holiday. After Christians spend time in reflection during the 40 days of Lent, we remember the event that shook the whole world. That our Lord conquered death. The Old Testament prophesied about this event hundreds of times, hundreds to thousands of years prior to the Resurrection. It’s not just a big deal. It’s the biggest deal in all of Christianity.

Easter is one of the most important holidays in the Christian calendar. It commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe was sent to Earth to offer salvation from sin. The word Easter comes from the Old English term for “spring festival” and is celebrated at the end of Lent, a period of fasting and prayer. Easter is typically observed by attending church services, exchanging gifts, and enjoying feasts with family and friends. For many, Easter is also a time to reflect on the meaning of life and the power of love and forgiveness. Through the symbolism of Easter, Christians are reminded that no matter how dark things may seem, there is always hope in the power of resurrection and new beginnings.

Why do Christians Celebrate Easter?

We celebrate Easter because not only did our Lord conquer death, but without the Resurrection, we have no foundation for our faith.

1 Corinthians 15:13-15 says, If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

In other words, Christianity has no point if the Resurrection didn’t happen. Christians would’ve been martyred for nothing and placed their faith in false hope.

Thankfully, the Resurrection did occur, and for those reasons, we have immense hope and assurance.

The History of Easter

Some people have suggested that Easter has some pagan origins. It gets muddled depending on which theologian you ask. Some have said that the pagan roots of the holiday date back to Babylon:

“According to an ancient “Sumerian legend of Damuzi (Tammuz) and his wife Inanna (Ishtar), [...] Tammuz dies, Ishtar is grief–stricken and follows him to the underworld.” Here, “‘naked and bowed low’ she is judged, killed, and then hung on display. In her absence, the earth loses its fertility, crops cease to grow, and animals stop reproducing. Unless something is done, all life on earth will end.” —Candice Lucey

Others have said that the church, wanting to win the trust of their pagan neighbors still, created a holiday that happened to fall around the time of a similar pagan festival (one that perhaps involved a certain bunny).

Christians cannot deny that, at the very least, pagan practices have infiltrated the holiday, from dyeing eggs to tales about the Easter bunny.

Nevertheless, when we celebrate what some believers like to call Resurrection Sunday, we celebrate 

Why Is Easter Called "Easter"?

According to crosswalk.com, the origin of the word easter isn’t clear. The Venerable Bede, an eighth-century monk and scholar, proposed that the word may have come from the Anglo-Saxon Eostre or Eastre – a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. Recent scholars haven’t been able to find any reference to the goddess Bede mentioned and consider the theory discredited. Another probability is the Norse eostur, eastur, or Ostara, which meant “the season of the growing sun” or “the season of new birth.” 

The word east comes from the same roots. In this case, easter would be linked to the changing of the season. A more recent and complex explanation comes from the Christian background of Easter rather than the pagan. The early Latin name for the week of Easter was hebdomada alba or “white week,” while the Sunday after Easter day was called Dominica in albis from the white robes of those who had been newly baptized. The word alba is Latin, both for white and dawn.  People speaking Old High German made a mistake in their translation and used a plural word for dawn, ostarun, instead of a plural for white. From ostarun we get the German Ostern and the English Easter.”

When Is Easter Celebrated?

Easter always falls on the Sunday of Passion Week, with the holidays of Holy Saturday and Good Friday preceding the holiday. For 2023, Easter occurs on Sunday, April 9th.

We’ve also outlined when Easter will fall for the next few years.

2023: Sunday, April 9th
2024: Sunday, March 31st
2025: Sunday, April 20th

Prayers to Celebrate Easter

Dear Lord, I want to let Your Truth sink deep down into my heart and soul today. Help me stay focused on You. And I pray for the many who will understand for the first time this Easter Sunday that You are risen. Wash over every soul with fresh hope and overwhelming joy. Bring new life as only You can. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” —Lysa Terkeurst

Dear Lord, help me to tell of Your wondrous power and mighty acts to those generations that come after me. May I not let the season pass by without pondering the real meaning of Easter. In Jesus' Name, Amen.” —Karen Ehman

Dear God, please allow me to encounter the overcoming power and redemptive love of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for planning the ultimate plot twist that allows me to experience an abundant life and eternal blessings through the work of Your Son. I am so very grateful! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” —Kathy Crabtree

“Father, I thank You for the miracle of life – abundant life here and eternal life with You in Heaven. Help me celebrate that life every day as I seek You and follow Your plan for my life. Today, I say with the Apostle Paul, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Amen.” —Mary Southerland

“Dear Lord, You are amazing! Thank you for offering forgiveness and mercy through the great exchange of Jesus. It is a miracle that I can come to You with a heart that is pure. Your love is extravagant and I cannot say thank you enough. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” —Gwen Smith

Further Reading

What Is the True Meaning of Easter? Why Is it Celebrated?

What Is Easter: Understanding the History and Symbols

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/ijeab