04/04/2015 09:15 EDT | Updated 06/04/2015 05:59 EDT

From Rabbits to Resurrections: How Easter Came to Be

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Think Easter started as a Christian holiday? Think again. This spring holiday began as, and still is, a very pagan one. While Christians celebrate their god's resurrection, so do other faiths and traditions that existed for millenia before Christianity was established. From the Egyptian god Osiris to the Greek god Dionysus -- among others -- a god's resurrection has always been a fairly common theme.

In fact, Easter itself is named after a pagan goddess who was worshipped for centuries before Christ. Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility (from whom we get the word estrogen) who was believed to usher in spring every year, thereby resurrecting the earth from the dead of winter into the new life of spring.

But what about all the Easter bunnies and eggs, you ask? Well, the story goes like this. One year, Eastre was late in coming and the snow didn't melt. This made it hard for the birds to find food, and one little bird broke its leg while digging through the deep snows.

Showing mercy for the bird, Eastre turned it into a rabbit so that it could hop on top of the snow; however, she knew the rabbit still had the heart of a bird so she allowed it to continue laying eggs -- although its eggs would now boast all the colours of spring. It therefore became a tradition for families to paint Easter eggs in honour of their goddess and in gratitude for the spring. Aww. How sweet is that?

It was only centuries later that the tradition of "hiding" eggs grew. Many scholars believe this practice was a way for pagan families and children to worship Eastre without suffering persecution by the Catholic church which had criminalized paganism.

In a further effort to aggressively Christianize the pagan population, the Catholic church then said the resurrection of their god happened on Easter so that they could claim the holiday as a Christian one. That's why, to this day, you will encounter many Christians who mistakenly assume this holiday has purely Christian origins -- and who even become insulted when anyone challenges this.

As more and more modern people embrace contemporary paganism and Vesta, we should also remember to embrace the many colours of spring -- that includes respecting the many belief and non-belief systems, old and new, that celebrate in ways that are meaningful to them and their families. We should especially remember the beautiful story of Eastre, the kind-hearted Anglo-Saxon goddess who brings the sunshine and warmth of spring.

Vesta is a family-focused and humanistic faith of light, warmth and renewal. As such, I think there is a lovely affinity between she and Eastre. These "illuminated" traditions have incredibly rich and colourful histories -- and in my opinion, it is long past time for them to be resurrected.

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