Why do we celebrate Easter and why does the date change every year?

We delve into the true meanings of the tradition

a close up of a brother and sister celebrating Easter by lying on the grass and unravelling Easter eggs
(Image credit: Future/Getty)

Yes there's chocolate and the Easter bunny for kids to get excited about - but this is the real reason why we celebrate Easter today.

Many people consider Easter their favourite festivity, thanks to the all deliciousness the holiday entails. From Easter eggs for kids and indulgent Easter hampers to a slap up Easter lamb dinner and hot cross buns for breakfast - it's certainly a celebration for our tastebuds. But it's important to remember that Easter food isn't the main reason we commemorate the spring holiday.

Much like Christmas, Easter is considered a religious holiday that's closely linked to the son of god, Jesus Christ. But did you know that the annual festival actually has pagan origins which date back even further? We share the different reasons we celebrate Easter and explain why it falls on different dates each year.

Why do we celebrate Easter?

Christians traditionally celebrate Easter to mark and remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the New Testament of the Bible, Mary Magdalene visits the tomb where Jesus was buried, only to discover it empty. An angel then tells her that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Christians worldwide have held festivities to remember this important day in their religious calendar for thousands of centuries. However, the origins of Easter actually go all the way back to ancient times when the pagan goddess of spring and fertility, Eostre, was worshipped. 

Back in the 13th century, in pre-Christian Germany, people would come together to worship gods and goddesses, with Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre being one. Feasts where held in her honour during the Vernal Equinox (also known as the Spring or March equinox). Symbols like rabbits and eggs came to be associated with Eostre, commemorating fertility and rebirth. And it's these Easter symbols that continue to be recognised in modern Easter celebrations today.

Where does the term Easter come from?

It's widely understood that the term 'Easter' is based on the name of Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, of which the pagan holiday is said to be based on. 

It's through the writings of seventh century British monk, Venerable Bedegoddess, that people today know of Eostre. In his book America's Favorite Holidays, scholar and author Bruce Forbes explains how the name stuck: "Bede wrote that the month in which English Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus had been called Eosturmonath in Old English, referring to a goddess named Eostre. 

"And even though Christians had begun affirming the Christian meaning of the celebration, they continued to use the name of the goddess to designate the season."

Whilst widely known as Easter across the globe, some countries have a different word for the holiday. In Greece, Easter is called "Pascha", in Italy it is "Pasqua", in France it is "Paque"s, and in Denmark it is "Paaske". These terms are based on the Jewish festival of Passover.

Passover is an important festival which marks the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. It's detailed in the Book of Exodus, within the Hebrew Bible and is celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

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Why does the date of Easter change every year?

The date of Easter changes every year for spiritual reasons. Easter is always set to coincide with the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, which is the first full moon after the Spring equinox. That's why the date changes every year, as the first Sunday doesn't always fall on the same day.

Another way to tell when Easter falls is to look at when Ash Wednesday is. It’s always the day after Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Day) and 40 days before Easter, the time to remember Jesus’ journey through the desert.

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Emily Stedman
Features Editor

Emily Stedman is the former Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.