Christians celebrate Easter Sunday as the day that the Jewish teacher, Jesus of Nazareth (later called The Christ), was resurrected (or disappeared) from the tomb within which his body was encased. This celebration is actually one of the more recent spring celebrations, which has morphed from and into many traditions. Pagans have celebrated the ideas and realities of death and rebirth for thousands of years.
One of these festivals celebrated Eostre (The Goddess of Dawn). She was linked to the egg and rabbit or hare and fertility. Others say the modern rabbit connection is a German tradition from the 1500s, when German’s changed the pagan rabbit image into a large bow-tie wearing rabbit named Oschter Haws, who was said to lay nests of colored eggs for good children.
The equinox, at the end of March, is also marked by Christians, Neopagans and Wiccans, many of whom hold celebrations on the eve of day of the equinox. The Eastern Orthodox churches also have Easter services, but they are a month or two later in the year.
The Religious Tolerance site has the following information about Easter’s origins.
The name “Easter” originated with the names of an ancient Goddess and God. The Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE.) a Christian scholar, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (a.k.a. Eastre). She was the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe. Similarly, the “Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility [was] known variously as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos.”
Her name was derived from the ancient word for spring: “eastre.” Similar Goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, and were celebrated in the springtime. Some were:
Aphrodite from ancient Cyprus
Ashtoreth from ancient Israel
Astarte from ancient Greece
Demeter from Mycenae
Hathor from ancient Egypt
Ishtar from Assyria
Kali, from India
Ostara a Norse Goddess of fertility.
An alternative explanation has been suggested. The name given by the Frankish church to Jesus’ resurrection festival included the Latin word “alba” which means “white.” (This was a reference to the white robes that were worn during the festival.) “Alba” also has a second meaning: “sunrise.” When the name of the festival was translated into German, the “sunrise” meaning was selected in error. This became “ostern” in German. Ostern has been proposed as the origin of the word “Easter”.
There are two popular beliefs about the origin of the English word “Sunday.” It is derived from the name of the Scandinavian sun Goddess Sunna (a.k.a. Sunne, Frau Sonne). It is derived from “Sol,” the Roman God of the Sun.” Their phrase “Dies Solis” means “day of the Sun.” The Christian saint Jerome (d. 420) commented “If it is called the day of the sun by the pagans, we willingly accept this name, for on this day the Light of the world arose, on this day the Sun of Justice shone forth.”