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Jehovah’s Witnesses

THE WATCHTOWER 1996-04-01

Easter or the Memorial—Which Should You Observe?

AS DAWN spreads its glow over the horizon on April 7, millions will welcome their most holy day of the year—Easter. At one time the name applied to a 120-day period of feasts and fasts that began with a holiday called Septuagesima and ended on what is called Trinity Day. Today the name is applied to a single day commemorating Jesus’ resurrection—Easter Sunday.

On an evening earlier in that same week, however, other millions will meet to celebrate the Memorial of Christ’s death, also known as the Lord’s Evening Meal. It is an observance that Jesus himself instituted on his last night on earth. He then told his disciples: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.”—Luke 22:19.

Which should you observe?

The Origin of Easter

The name Easter, used in many lands, is not found in the Bible. The book  Medieval Holidays and Festivals tells us that “the holiday is named after the pagan Goddess of the Dawn and of Spring, Eostre.” And who was this goddess? “Eostre it was who, according to the legend, opened the portals of Valhalla to receive Baldur, called the White God, because of his purity and also the Sun God, because his brow supplied light to mankind,” answers The American Book of Days. It adds: “There is no doubt that the Church in its early days adopted the old pagan customs and gave a Christian meaning to them. As the festival of Eostre was in celebration of the renewal of life in the spring it was easy to make it a celebration of the resurrection from the dead of Jesus, whose gospel they preached.”

This adoption explains how in certain lands the Easter customs, such as Easter eggs, the Easter rabbit, and hot cross buns, came about. Concerning the custom of making hot cross buns, “with their shiny brown tops marked by a . . . cross,” the book Easter and Its Customs states: “The cross was a pagan symbol long before it acquired everlasting significance from the events of the first Good Friday, and bread and cakes were sometimes marked with it in pre-Christian times.”

Nowhere in Scripture do we find mention of these things, nor is there any evidence that the early disciples of Jesus gave them any credence. In fact, the apostle Peter tells us to “form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word, that through it [we] may grow to salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2) So why did the churches of Christendom adopt such obviously pagan symbols into their beliefs and practices?

The book Curiosities of Popular Customs answers: “It was the invariable policy of the early Church to give a Christian significance to such of the extant pagan ceremonies as could not be rooted out. In the case of Easter the conversion was peculiarly easy. Joy at the rising of the natural sun, and at the awakening of nature from the death of winter, became joy at the rising of the Sun of righteousness, at the resurrection of Christ from the grave. Some of the pagan observances which took place about the 1st of May were also shifted to correspond with the celebration of Easter.” Rather than steer clear of popular pagan customs and magical rites, the religious leaders condoned them and gave them “Christian significance.”

‘But is there any harm in that?’ you may wonder. Some think not. “When a religion such as Christianity comes to a people from outside, it adopts and ‘baptizes’ some of the folk customs which derive from older religions,” said Alan W. Watts, an Episcopal chaplain, in his book Easter—Its Story and Meaning. “It selects and weaves into the liturgy folk observances which seem to signify the same eternal principles taught by the Church.” To many, the fact that their church sanctioned these observances and treated them as holy is reason enough to accept them. But important questions are being overlooked. How does God feel about these customs? Has he given us any guidelines to follow in the matter?

Getting God’s Viewpoint

“Easter Day, the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, is the greatest of all the festivals of the Christian Church,” said Christina Hole in her book Easter and Its Customs. Other writers concur. “No holy day or festival in the Christian year can compare in importance with Easter Sunday,” notes Robert J. Myers in the book Celebrations. That, however, raises some questions. If celebrating Easter is so important, why is there no specific command in the Bible to do so? Is there any record  of Jesus’ early disciples observing Easter Sunday?

It is not that the Bible fails to give guidelines as to what should or should not be celebrated. God was very specific in this to the ancient nation of Israel, and as noted earlier, explicit instructions were given for Christians to continue observing the Memorial of Christ’s death. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Colossians 2:16, 17) An early edition of The Encyclopædia Britannica tells us: “There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic Fathers. The sanctity of special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians. . . . Neither the Lord nor his apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival.”

Some feel that the joyousness of such festivals and the happiness they bring are sufficient justification for their observance. We can learn, however, from the occasion when the Israelites adopted an Egyptian religious practice and renamed it “a festival to Jehovah.” They too “sat down to eat and drink” and “got up to have a good time.” But their actions greatly angered Jehovah God, and he severely punished them.—Exodus 32:1-10, 25-28, 35.

God’s Word is very clear. There can be no sharing between the “light” of true beliefs and the “darkness” of Satan’s world; there can be no “harmony” between Christ and pagan worship. We are told: “‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing’; ‘and I will take you in.’”—2 Corinthians 6:14-18.

As only the Memorial celebration—not Easter—is commanded in the Bible for Christians, it should be observed.