Mithras, Saturnalia, winter solstice - all pagan celebrations that were overwhelmed by the Christianization of Europe. Jesus' birth date, who knows? But, I can't think of a better time to celebrate than the middle of beautiful cold and darkness.
Easter? We certainly have a better handle on the date of the Resurrection given its relation to Passover. Still that date may vary by up to 35 days. My friend and neighborhood historian, Bill Petro, says that the name Easter comes from the Germanic goddess, Ēostre or Ostara who presided over spring, the returning of the light and quite likely vernal fertility.
Now what does Jerusalem have to do with Teutonic paganism? I know it's not consistent, but I'd like to jettison the trivial bunnies and eggs and keep the glorious Christmas tree. In fact I'm good with sacking the name "Easter" altogether. There seems no relation to the main event. Some have nominated "Pasca" (πάσχα), from Greek for "Passover". (I must have heard the phrase "our Pascal Lamb" a thousand times growing up in church, but never knew till now that it meant the ultimate "Passover Lamb".) "Pasca" is too awkward though, the term being unknown outside the Orthodox Church. I'm thinking "Resurrection Day". Of course every Sunday is resurrection Sunday, but this is Resurrection Sunday! Still a little awkward though: "Happy Easter!" "Happy Pasca!" "Happy Resurrection Day!" Maybe that's why we say, "He is risen!"
Despite my disdain for spring fertility worship, this weekend we moved our backyard the first step from death to life. Seven new trees to soften the charcoal background - five aspen, a blue spruce and one pine piñon pine. Either way, pagan or Christian, an apt metaphor for the fecundity of spring and the last, best hope of the human race. He is risen!