What is the true meaning and purpose of Easter? Ask any Christian around the world and they will tell you they celebrate Easter to commemorate Jesus' resurrection from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion.

But the true origin of Easter, like many other Christian holidays, began as a Pagan celebration.

The English word Easter derives from Eostre, Ostara or Eostrae, the Pagan goddess of spring and fertility.

Pagans celebrated Eostre each year during the spring equinox, the first day of spring. It is the time of year when plants and trees that had been dormant for the winter comes back to life, or are reborn.

The First Council of Nicaea in 325A.D.established the date that Easter is to be celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after the first day of spring, making it a moveable feast. Given the symbolism of new life and rebirth, it was only natural to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at this time of the year.

In the Christian calendar, Easter follows the forty days of Lent which is traditionally observed by acts of penance and fasting.

The week immediately preceding Easter is known as Holy Week, which includes Maundy Thursday, the commemoration of Jeasus’ Last Supper with his disciples and Good Friday, the day of his crucifixion. Liturgically, Easter comes after the Great Vigil, celebrated as a sunrise service.

Regardless of its origins, Easter has been celebrated for centuries and many customs and traditions have developed too, right down to the chocolates, bunnies and colored eggs.

Our modern tradition of collecting, dying and decorating eggs dates back thousands of years, long before the time of Jesus.

Many ancient cultures saw eggs as a sign of fertility and new life. They used eggs in religious rituals and hung them in pagan temples for mystical purposes. The giving and receiving of eggs was also a common tradition in the Teutonic tribes, eggs symbolizing rebirth and renewal.Later, Christian missionaries observed community members hunting for eggs in spring and they began using the food as a tool to describe Christ's new birth in resurrection.

They would dye the eggs based on what colors meant to the church: yellow for resurrection, blue for love, red for the blood of Christ. Or, they would paint various scenes from the Bible on eggs and hide them. The child who found the egg would come back and tell the story painted on that egg.

The Easter bunny, a common symbols of Easter, also arose from ancient, pagan tradition in that Eostre's pagan symbol was the rabbit or hare.

But the Easter bunny giving candies and eggs is said to have originated in Germany during the Middle Ages, with the first written mention of this tradition dating back to the 16th century.

Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania brought the bunny to the United States in the 1700s.

Whether Easter is observed as a religious holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or time for families to celebrate the coming of Spring with egg decorating and Easter bunnies, the celebration of Easter still represents rebirth and renewal, as it has for thousands of years.