As with almost all holidays that have their roots in Christianity, Easter has been
secularized and commercialized. The dichotomous nature of Easter and its symbols,
however, is not necessarily a modern fabrication. Since its conception as a holy
celebration in the second century, Easter has had its non-religious side. In fact,
Easter was originally a pagan festival.

    The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious festival
commemorating their goddess of offspring and of springtime, Eastre. When the
second-century Christian missionaries encountered the tribles of the north with their
pagan celebrations, they attempted to convert them to Christianity. They did so,
however, in a clandestine manner.

    It would have been suicide for the very early Christian converts to celebrate their
holy days with observances that did not coincide with celebrations that already
existed. To save lives, the missionaries cleverly decided to spread their religious
message slowly throughout the populations by allowing them to continue to 
celebrate pagan feasts, but to do so in a Christian manner.

    As it happened, the pagan festival of Eastre occurred at the same time of year as
the Christian observance of the resurrection of Christ. It made sense, therefore, to
alter the festival itself, to make it a Christian celebration as converts were slowly
won over. The early name, Eastre, was eventually changed to its modern spelling,

    The date of Easter - Prior to A.D. 325, Easter was variously celebrated on 
different days of the week, including Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In that year, the
Council of Nicaea was convened by emperor Constantine. It issued the Easter Rule
which states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the
first full moon on or after the vernal equinox, or first day of spring. Therefore, 
Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25.
Its date is tied to the lunar cycle.

    The Lenten Season - Lent is the forty-six day period just prior to Easter Sunday. 
It begins on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") is a 
celebration, sometimes called "Carnival," practiced around the world, on the 
Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday. It was designed as a way to "get it all out" 
before the sacrifices of Lent began. New Orleans is the focal point of Mardi Gras 
celebrations in the U.S. Read about the religious meanings of the Lenten Season.

    The Cross - The Cross is the symbol of the Crucifixion, as opposed to the 
Resurrection. However, at the Council of Nicaea, in A.D. 325, Constantine decreed 
that the Cross was the official symbol of Christianity. The Cross is not only a 
symbol of Easter, but it is more widely used, especially by the Catholic Church, as
a year-round symbol of their faith.

    The Easter Bunny - The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention. The symbol
originated with the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped
by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the rabbit. The Germans brought
the symbol of the Easter rabbit to America. It was widely ignored by other 
Christians until shortly after the Civil War. In fact, Easter itself was not widely 
celebrated in America until after that time.

    The Easter Egg - As with the Easter Bunny and the holiday itself, the Easter Egg
predates the Christian holiday of Easter. The exchange of eggs in the springtime is
a custom that was centuries old when Easter was first celebrated by Christians.
From the earliest times, the egg was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures. Eggs were
often wrapped in gold leaf or, if you were a peasant, colored brightly by boiling 
them with the leaves or petals of certain flowers. Today, children hunt colored eggs
and place them in Easter baskets along with the modern version of real Easter eggs,
those made of plastic or chocolate candy. 
The Origin of Easter