The older European and pre-European holiday traditions were not based upon claimed religious phenomenon, but rather upon the seasonal characteristics of nature. The ancient traditions were founded by people who were highly aware of seasonal change and arranged their lives and festivities around them accordingly, explicitly marking the spring and fall equinoxes as well as the summer and winter solstices. These periods acknowledged and celebrated the Sun god and its relation to society. The Sun god was seen as the provider of the energy for life from which they prospered, and was therefore given reverence. Even today Judeo-Christians borrow extensively from pagan wisdom while otherwise slandering and misrepresenting paganism. If you go to a sunrise service on Easter, reflect for a moment about why the rising sun is an inherently powerful and appealing force to our inner spirit.
"Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it."- Will Durant, "The Story of Civilization"
When Judeo-Christians attempted to convert pagans from their traditional beliefs, the native people of Europe were initially resistant to discarding the beliefs and values that had guided them successfully for thousands of years. Realizing that it was difficult to get people to give up their relation to nature and the recollection of their past, the Judeo-Christian conversion effort adopted and modified the pagan traditions, while replacing cyclical nature with an invisible, inert god and a personal, linear human idol to worship as its representation.
The chosen people of the Judeo-Christian God did not like the worship of nature and knew this would be harmful to the successful propagation of their beliefs.
Pagans were familiar with the cycles of nature that made life everlasting. Life and death were not considered personal ego-based conditions and feared as they are in Judeo-Christianity, but were seen as stages of growth and decay through which everything living inevitably passes. Instead of being afraid and needing to be "saved" from life, pagans loved this world and lived with honor and respect so that they were able to have the best lives possible. The notion of a "better world" reached by dying was not their life's goal. Instead, they believed in making this world better for each other and for their children. Here "better" does not concern itself with being meek or moralistic, but rather is focused on what is real and heroic in life, while also preserving its rich roots and heritage. This conception of life is that of a long chain to which every child is eternally connected and from which he inherits an entire history as his birthright.
The name Easter comes from an ancient European goddess of the dawn called Eostre by the Anglo-Saxons and Ostara by the Germanic peoples...She was considered the goddess of the growing light and spring, associated with fertility and celebrated with a festival of rebirth. One story has her entertaining children by performing a trick that changed her pet bird into a rabbit. This rabbit then laid colored eggs that she gave to the children. Given the history of these ideas which date back to at least 2000 years before the Christian era, it should be no surprise that the original symbols and practices of Easter persist today, just as our ancestors once celebrated them.
Colored eggs have a variety of traditions. In some European cultures, they are used similarly to Valentine's Day gifts as a way of indicating attraction to a desired mate. The egg also symbolizes cosmic creation which is consistent with its use in the spring festival of rebirth. A Babylonian legend even says that the goddess Ishtar hatched from an egg that fell from heaven.
Hot cross buns trace their origin to the ritual bread served at the feast of Eostre. The word bun is derived from the Saxon word boun which means "sacred ox". The cross represents the solar wheel and thus the pagan cosmology.
Most people are aware that the day of Easter moves each year, but few people remember the reason for this or the method of its calculation. When we celebrate Easter, it is the first Sunday after the first Vernal Equinox fullmoon. The Vernal Equinox signifies the astronomical arrival of spring and was considered the time to celebrate the rebirth and renewal as nature resurrects itself from the death it suffered in winter. The Sun that died at Yule is reborn!
It is outside of the scope of this sermon, but the Winter Solstice is the basis of Christmas, as well as the Christmas tree. There is truly little attributed to Judeo-Christianity that is original, but to be fair it is difficult to conquer people sufficiently to destroy their traditions and instinctual feelings. This must be performed gradually by first coopting the traditions, slowly turning them against the spirit of the people, and then cutting the people off from their roots so they remain separated from their natural instincts and awareness of what is right.
If the symbols, image, and traditions of Easter seem incongruent with the message of those who promote the holiday, they may make more sense after you look into their nature-based pagan roots. Here you can gain hints from the aspects of the celebration that spoke to our ancestors. The same ancient spirit lives on in us today, only we have to uncover it and rediscover its meaning. In that way, we can find our past traditions preserved in Easter -- and give them rebirth.