Why do we use the word Easter to describe the spring’s eggiest holiday? There’s more than one theory, but the most interesting intertwines with the tale of a monk known as the Venerable Bede.
A learned man in literature and astrology, Bede worked to improve souls in 7th-century England. The scholar also did a lot of writing, and while he covered topics from spelling to science, he spilled a lot of ink on the question of which day was the right one to celebrate Easter — a contentious topic back in his day.
Should it coincide with the older Jewish celebration of Passover, as some early Christians said it should, meaning it could fall on different days of the week depending on the Jewish calendar? Or must it be on a Sunday, the historic day of Jesus’ resurrection, as other Christians decreed? Which calendar should be used? Catholics said it should be after the spring equinox, but when is the spring equinox anyway? (The calculation that’s been generally settled on today is still complicated.)
Tucked away in Bede’s lengthy analysis is the origin story, just a few lines suggesting what inspired the name of the holiday: a goddess named Eostre, who represents spring and fertility. Pagans had celebrated her in a month that became known as Eosturmonath in Old English, he wrote, which corresponds to what we now call April. And so people started “calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honored name of the old observance.”