“Regardless of what traditions you follow, the spiritual meaning of Easter is a new light after sacrifice or tribulation.”
As we move into the early spring season and start seeing chocolate eggs and pastel colors in store windows, we know Easter must be on the way. Whether or not we are practicing Christians, Easter is a big holiday. But what is the spiritual meaning of Easter, exactly?
From a Christian perspective, Easter Monday is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ after he died on the cross and then rose again three days later. It comes after the somewhat more somber observance of Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross for his people’s sins.
This holiday weekend is actually embedded in a much longer Christian mythology. The rituals start on Shrove Tuesday in March, also known as Pancake Tuesday. This is traditionally the day to eat up all the sugar and butter in your house in advance of Lent, a 40-day period of sacrifice meant to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent wandering in the desert. The long journey through Lent ends in Easter, which is usually celebrated with food and family.
Like many Christian holidays, however, this one is connected to older mythologies still. You can tell this by the fact that Easter is a movable feast: The date changes each year because it is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox. Easter is also the holiday of the pagan Germanic goddess Eostre, the goddess of the dawn. She is celebrated at springtime, when the light begins to return in the Northern Hemisphere to warm up the earth, bringing with it food, flowers, and the promise of a new season. The eggs and bunnies so often seen around Easter are actually symbols of the Goddess’ fertility.
Easter also tends to coincide pretty closely with the Jewish Passover celebration, which is also a movable feast defined by the lunar calendar. Like Lent, Passover takes place over a number of days and involves some restriction—specifically that leavened bread must not be eaten. This holiday commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt, including the miraculous moment when God parted the red seas to allow his people to cross. On the other side, the Hebrews wandered for 40 years in the desert before finding their ancestral home, now known as Israel.
The number 40 comes up often in the Bible, and is also a common amount of time used in yoga and other spiritual traditions. You’ll often see 40-day challenges for yoga practices or meditations, and it’s also common time window for healing after childbirth in many cultures. It is also about the amount of time it takes to learn a new habit, heal from an intense experience, or make a change in our lives.
Regardless of what traditions you follow, the spiritual meaning of Easter is a new light after sacrifice or tribulation. We might not be quite through the suffering yet, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
So perhaps this is a time to share food and stories with friends and family (in person or online!), and it might also be a time to go outside and bask in the early spring sunlight (or snow, or rain, or whatever is available at the time), light a candle, write in your journal, or take a bath with floral scented soaps. Paint an egg for the goddess. Take a bite of a chocolate bunny. However you choose to do it, now is the time to honor the spiritual meaning of the season by welcoming the light and hope that come with the spring.
Keep reading about alternative Easter practices: “Easter for Earth Lovers.”