The Pink Triangle Trust

Introducing the Humanist Tradition

Leaflet number 8: Passover, Easter and Other Myths that Welcome Spring

Welcome Spring

You and I may not need an excuse for celebrating, or for a party, but it is useful to be able to give reasons to governments and our bosses for them to provide us with paid holidays!

We mark our birthdays, anniversaries and retirement, and there is no better way of marking the passing of the years than celebrating the changing seasons with a holiday.

Springtime is especially welcome as it seems to spell the death of winter, and is the time for vegetation to come to life again, and for eggs to hatch. It helps us realise that we are part of this natural process.

It is not surprising that it is also a time of myths of death, rebirth and resurrection. They provide a parallel to nature’s real event of spring.


Passover, or Pesach, is a festival of an ancient tribe of people called Israelites, and is still celebrated by Judaists from 14th to 22nd of their month of Nisan (March – April). Possibly a spring festival originally, it is used to relate the legend of the escape from slavery in Egypt of the Israelites and is told in the Bible in the book of Exodus.

The Bible says that the festival was instituted to commemorate the Israelites being brought out of Egypt, in particular the ‘passing over’ of the houses of the Israelites (distinguished by blood sprinkled on the door-posts) by God when he killed all the first-born children and animals in every house of the Egyptians.

Throughout the Passover festival, matzah (unleavened bread) is eaten. At the passover meal, the Judaic Haggadah is read. It tells the story of the departure from Egypt.

The Hyksos, or “shepherd kings”, who conquered Egypt about 1700 BCE were driven out about 1580 BCE. It is thought that their domination of Egypt may have given rise to the myth about the Israelites in that country.

There is no evidence in the records of Egypt or of the neighbouring peoples, or from archaeological research, that the tribe of Israelites was ever in Egypt.


The festival of Easter, occurring near the vernal equinox, is of great antiquity. The word Easter does not occur in the Bible at all. The English name Eastre and the German one Ostern are said to derive from the name of the feast of the Teutonic goddess of Spring, Ostera.

At Easter, solar-gods and vegetation-gods were worshipped, with special mysteries to symbolise their death, the search for, and the finding of, their bodies, and their resurrection.

For example, the vernal equinox was the period of the triumph and sacrifice of the god Mithras. He was a vegetation-god as well as a sun-god, the two often being associated. In the case of Mithras a stone image was mourned, sepulchred in a rock tomb and, after an interval, restored as re-living. In the interval he had descended into Hades. The same form was followed with the gods Osiris, Attis, Adonis and Dionysus.

The Christian ‘gospels’ of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible give conflicting accounts of the supernatural life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter. The identities of the actual writers of the stories, and the original editors, are entirely unknown, and the tales no doubt come from different sources.

By Act of Parliament passed in 1752, Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21st. But the full moon referred to is not a real one but a hypothetical one.

Prior to Easter, Christians observe Lent, a word from Old English lencten meaning spring. For them it is a period of fasting, apart from Sundays, and it begins on Ash Wednesday (40th weekday before Easter Sunday).

Welcome Spring

Humanists enjoy public holidays without needing the excuse provided by a myth. Colourful traditions, like decorating eggs and eating Easter Eggs, can be enjoyed for the pleasure they give, and as symbols of a welcome change in a season of the year.

Some people feel that supernatural myths about escapes, rebirth and resurrection add to understanding human life, but they can reduce the significance of our own lives. Humanists ask such people, in the words of Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) in Empedocles on Etna:

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done?

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Created : Sunday, 1998-03-29 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :