Like many of our other religious holidays, Easter began as a pagan festival. It was an ancient Anglo-Saxon celebration in honor of their goddess of offspring and spring, Eastre (as you can see, the name has been kept, only changed slightly).
After the second-century missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons had converted some of the people, they knew that it would be suicide for those people to worship openly, so they very cleverly combined the Christian holiday with a festival that already existed. The festival for Eastre was celebrated at the same time as the remembrance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, so they made it into a Christian celebration.
Another celebration associated with Easter is the Jewish Passover or Pesach (the term PASCHAL means "of Easter" and is the root word for Easter in many other languages).
"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."
Easter has many symbols associated with it. Some predate the Christian era.
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"
PASCHAL CANDLE - "The Paschal candle represents Christ's person, and its flame symbolizes His Resurrection as 'the light of the world.' " The candle is set in a large holder near the altar and is lit during the Easter vigil service on Saturday night (from this candle, all the other candles in the church are lit). "In early times most members of the congregation carried fire from the Paschal candle to their homes, to relight their hearths and lamps." This ritual dates back to about the 4th century A.D.
EASTER BUNNY - the hare was the earthly symbol used for the goddess Eastre and represents fertility, new life and the moon. It may have become a symbol for Easter because it is tied to the lunar cycle
(Sources used: Easter, The Easter Page - Traditions and History, Easter On The Net - Easter Eggs, Easter, Easter Symbols and Traditions, The Paschal Candle, Rearview Mirror: How the Egg Came to Symbolize Easter)
The Easter Story as told in Scripture
Bimsan - Web Graphics