The “Anastasis” of Christ.
Anastasios and Anastasia were given names coined almost 2000 years ago for Christian babies born around the anniversary of Christ’s Resurrection. The holiday we now call Easter.
Let’s take a step back into history, shall we?
The New Testament (first written in Greek) contains the word αναστασις (anastasis) about 40 times which means, literally, “standing anew,” composed of the Greek elements ανα “up again, anew” and στασις “to stand, standing.”
Three days after His crucifixion, this is precisely what Jesus did: he stood up again. He was resurrected.
The Resurrection was a seminal moment in Christianity, and central to its doctrine. It represents the triumph of good over evil, and the salvation of mankind (“Christ died for our sins” 1 Cor. 15:3). But most of all, it provided the essential evidence of his divinity, as the true Son of God, and the fulfillment of the Jewish messiah from the Old Testament scriptures.
Had the Resurrection not occurred, history might have treated Jesus as just another agitator of the Roman State. At least that’s what the Roman authorities had predicted when they crucified the charismatic young man. Talk about a history-changing miscalculation!
Before the end of the 1st century, Jewish Christians of the Eastern Roman Empire were formally observing the Resurrection event. Back then, though, it wasn’t called Easter. It was called Paschae. Why? It’s the Church Latin transcription of the Greek Πάσχα, an Aramaic borrowing of the Hebrew פֶּסַח (Pesach) or “Passover.” This is because Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection occurred around the time of the Jewish Passover (which celebrates the Jewish Exodus from Egypt).
The word “Easter” evolved from Olde English Easterdæg which itself has been traced to the prehistoric Proto-Germanic *austron- "dawn." The holiday’s original namesake, Eostre, was a Germanic fertility goddess of spring and the glorious sunrise. Easterdæg was celebrated by the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon pagans at the Spring Equinox (hence, from the even more prehistoric root *aust- "east, toward the sunrise" and *aus- "to shine"). As the Anglo-Saxons became Christianized, they conveniently adapted their pagan celebration Easterdæg to honor the Resurrection of Christ. They gave up their paganism, but they refused to give up their word. Easter it is.
In fact, in almost all other Western languages except German (Ostern), the word for Easter is derived from the aforementioned Latin Paschae which evolved into Pâques (French), Páscoa (Portuguese), Pascua (Spanish), Påske (Scandinavian), Pasqua (Italian) and the like.
Today most Christians celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (follow that?) Thanks to the Easter bunny and colorful eggs – most non-Christians (especially with children) join in the festivities, as well.
So when did bunnies and eggs enter into the mix?
Easter overfloweth with springtime symbols. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. The end of darkness and the cold of winter. Check out any Thesaurus and you will see that Eastertime and springtime are treated as synonyms.
Since rabbits are known to breed very rapidly and very often (producing many offspring), they have long been a symbol of fertility. In fact, medieval folks believed a virgin rabbit could have baby bunnies (associating them with Mary, Mother of Jesus), so bunnies were a natural addition to the celebration. The Easter Bunny developed into a sort of “furry Santa Claus in pastels,” doling out treats to well-behaved little children, starting in the mid-18th century.
Eggs have featured into the Easter celebration since at least the 13th century probably because they were a forbidden food during Lent's 40-day fasting and people were eager to eat them again. Painting them is very medieval, too – usually green (to symbolize renewal) and red (to symbolize the blood of Christ). The act of “egg-play” (that is, rolling them and hiding them) is probably a result of playful pastime to engage medieval children who otherwise did not have Lego sets and video games to occupy them.
Today, Easter is almost a $20 billion industry in the United States. Only Santa Claus and good ole Mom have the Easter Bunny beat in consumer spending. According to a recent study, more than 50% of Americans will spend April 21, 2019 going to Church followed by Easter parades, egg hunts and gatherings with friends and family for a delicious Easter meal. Lots will be spent on candy, food, flowers, baskets and gifts. Perhaps even a thoughtful NameStory!
Julie Hackett | Founder, NameStories.com