Easter Egg History

By: Anne Harvester

If you ask most kids today what “Easter Eggs” are, they’ll probably tell you that they’re undocumented features found in computer games and DVD’s. Of course, when it comes to the history of Easter gifts, it refers to brightly-colored eggs. The egg tradition associated with Easter is an old one, predating the arrival of Christianity in Europe. It has long been a fertility symbol in many cultures.

One the other hand, Easter – which in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches is considered the main observance of the liturgical year – has a close connection with the Jewish holiday of Passover, or Pesach, which celebrates the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. During the traditional seder meal, hard-boiled eggs flavored with salt water are eaten. (In fact, the “Last Supper” was actually a Passover celebration.)

Colored eggs are also part of traditional Easter gift baskets, and many of these are works of art. In Russia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and other Slavic-speaking countries, Easter eggs are painstakingly painted with highly elaborate geometrical patterns in vivid, contrasting colors such as brilliant whites, reds and yellows against black dark maroon and deep blue. This decoration method is known as pisanka.

In Iran, colored eggs have been part of the Persian New Year celebration of Nowruz for over 3,000 years. Nowruz coincides with the spring equinox.

It nearly all of these cultures, the egg represents dormant life waiting to be born – a fitting metaphor for Spring, and for Christians, symbolic of the resurrection of the founder of their faith, Yeshua ben-Yosef, or Iesus Christos as he was named in Greek.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Easter also marks the end of a forty-six day period of fasting and privation known as Lent. During Lent, it was traditional to give up eating animal flesh and/or dairy products as well as eggs. Of course, one’s chickens didn’t stop laying during that time, so it was common to boil them in order to preserve them and avoid wasting food. Hard boiled eggs are an ingredient in many traditional Easter dishes, such as hornazo, a savory pork-and-egg pie eaten in Spain.

Today, eggs are often as not made from chocolate and are a welcome part of children’s Easter baskets. If you are in Scotland during the Easter season, you might even be able to get your chocolate Easter egg deep fried from a fish-and-chips establishment!

Other Easter egg traditions include numerous games, such as the Easter egg roll, a speed contest in which hard-boiled eggs are pushed along with a spoon; rolling eggs down steep slopes; and of course, the ever-popular Easter egg hunt. It’s possible nowadays to get “beeping” Easter eggs that allow children with visual impairments to join in the fun, as well.

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