Easter has long been associated with the Christian tradition, this has been the only meaning of Easter for the better part of 2000 years. There is evidence to suggest though that this celebration is merely the continuation, and latest incarnation of, an earlier festival that coincided with the Vernal Equinox. This “Pagan” origin is speculated to be a festival in honour of the goddess Eostre, she was the Goddess of spring and fertility and may also have been the goddess of dawn. This pre-Christian goddess also lent her name to a month of the year in the same way that many of the months in the modern calendar owe their names to Roman gods.

The symbology of our current Easter is also much easier to understand in the context of a celebration of a fertility goddess. Both the rabbit (or Hare) and the egg are ancient symbols of fertility for obvious reasons and so their incorporation into the tradition is natural. It is possible that the introduction of Easter into the Christian tradition was an attempt to make the new religion more palatable to a wide audience or perhaps more likely it was an amalgamation of two festivals that happened to occur at the same time and so in a way incorporated the mythology of one into the other.

It is interesting to note that observances such as Easter and Christmas while having a firmly religious foundation in the past have morphed into more or less secular holidays. I recall a radio poll several years ago that asked if Easter should be divorced from it’s religious connections and at the time I thought, it already is. In my mind this is neither a good nor bad thing merely the consequence of living in a culturally diverse milieu*.

Resources:

http://www.innvista.com/culture/religion/deities/easter.htm

http://www.haydid.org/easter.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter

*I’ve been dying to use this word in a sentence.