What are some thoughts on the differences and similarities of the way early Christians celebrated Easter vs the way we do today? I understand the marketing aspects of Easter and how that has influenced our young but how about the beliefs behind the real meaning of Easter.
I’m not sure exactly what you’re looking for, but I’ll try!
Certainly, the real meaning of Easter is the same today as it always was: it is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Even as early as 329 AD, St. Athanasius referred to Easter as the “Great Sunday.” Our Catechism also calls it the "Feast of feasts and “Solemnity of solemnities” (CCC 1169).
One of the topics addressed at the Council of Nicea (325 AD) was the dating of Easter, so it was obviously being celebrated well before that.
If you are wondering about externals, perhaps you have something specific in mind? Obviously, Mass is now and always has been celebrated on Easter.
If you’re looking for a lot of info on Easter, try the Old Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on Easter. The encyclopedia is from 1909. If you scroll down to the final part of the article, they address “Peculiar Customs of Easter Time”. As an example, here’s what they say about Easter eggs and the Easter bunny:
2. Easter Eggs
Because the use of eggs was forbidden during Lent, they were brought to the table on Easter Day, coloured red to symbolize the Easter joy. This custom is found not only in the Latin but also in the Oriental Churches. The symbolic meaning of a new creation of mankind by Jesus risen from the dead was probably an invention of later times. The custom may have its origin in paganism, for a great many pagan customs, celebrating the return of spring, gravitated to Easter. The egg is the emblem of the germinating life of early spring. Easter eggs, the children are told, come from Rome with the bells which on Thursday go to Rome and return Saturday morning. The sponsors in some countries give Easter eggs to their god-children. Coloured eggs are used by children at Easter in a sort of game which consists in testing the strength of the shells (Kraus, Real-Encyklop die, s. v. Ei). Both coloured and uncoloured eggs are used in some parts of the United States for this game, known as “egg-picking”. Another practice is the “egg-rolling” by children on Easter Monday on the lawn of the White House in Washington.
3. The Easter Rabbit
The Easter Rabbit lays the eggs, for which reason they are hidden in a nest or in the garden. The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility (Simrock, Mythologie, 551).
Also check out the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy for some background on traditional practices for Easter and the surrounding seasons. Paragraphs 124-155 are the most pertinent.
*]Paragraphs 124-137 address Lent.
*]Paragraphs 138-139 address Holy Week.
*]Paragraphs 140-147 address the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday)
*]Paragraphs 148-151 address Easter Sunday
*]Paragraphs 152-155 address the Easter season (from Easter to Pentecost)[/list]
who is "we?"
if you mean the Church, in essentials the celebration is the same, esp. the Easter Vigil
if you mean the secular marketing event that coincides with the Christian celebration of Easter, obviously there was no such phenomena in the early centuries.