How Easter Eggs Came to Be

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Eggs are, by their very nature, obvious fertility symbols. Yet one may wonder how the symbolism of a rabbit laying eggs during spring came to be. There are several historical explanations that have been proposed.  While they are interesting to examine there still is no conclusion as to how Easter eggs came to be.

According to some historical experts  the etymology of the English word “Easter” comes from the Germanic month “Eostur-monath” which was the month of the year in which it was celebrated. Others have also stated that the month was named for a goddess whose cult had died out named “Eostre.” This was a Germanic goddess whose name was attributed to the festival, but there is no mention of eggs at all.  However this one statement about the theory of an ancient goddess named Eostre is the sum total of information about her. Because of the lack of any corroboration, many scholars believe that no cult of any such goddess ever existed.

Still with all the references to Easter the precise origin of the ancient custom of coloring eggs is still not known. Many Christians who live in the eastern regions of the world still typically dye their Easter eggs red for the color of blood, in recognition of the renewal of life in springtime (and, later, the blood of the sacrificed Christ). Some cultures also use the color green, in honor of the new foliage emerging after the long dead time of winter.

In an interesting note about the practice of Easter egg coloring is that many German Protestants wanted to retain the Catholic custom of eating colored eggs for Easter, but did not want to introduce their children to the Catholic rite of fasting. This was because eggs were forbidden to Catholics during the fast of Lent, which was the reason for the abundance of eggs at Easter time.

This practice of coloring eggs goes back many centuries when the ancient Persians painted eggs for Nowrooz, (their New Year celebration), which falls on the Spring equinox. The Nowrooz tradition has existed for at least 2,500 years. Many of their decorated eggs can be seen in museums around the world. Their own culture marked the importance of egg coloring as the sculptures on the walls of Persepolis show people carrying eggs for Nowrooz to the king.

Eggs have continued to play a prominent part in springtime rituals in the Jewish community. At the Jewish Passover Seder, a hard-boiled egg is dipped in salt water so that it symbolizes both new life and the Passover sacrifice offered at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Christian practices have Russian Orthodox priests blessing Easter baskets at Easter in Lviv, Ukraine. The egg is widely used as a symbol of the start of new life, just as new life emerges from an egg when the chick hatches out. The egg is also seen as being symbolic of the grave and life renewed or resurrected by breaking out of it. The red is also supposedly symbolizing the blood of Christ redeeming the world and human redemption through the blood shed in the sacrifice of the crucifixion. Many other Christians see the egg itself is a symbol of resurrection: while being dormant it contains a new life sealed within it.

Eggs themselves play an important part in the dietary choices of many people during the Easter season.  In the practices of Eastern Christianity, both meat and dairy are prohibited during the Lenten fast, and eggs are seen as “dairy” (a foodstuff that could be taken from an animal without shedding its blood). In the Orthodox Church, Great Lent begins on Clean Monday, rather than Wednesday, so that the household’s dairy products would be used up in the week preceding.  This week is called Cheese fare Week. Then, with the coming of Pascha (Easter), the eating of eggs resumes. But, for those Orthodox Christians, the Easter egg is much more than a celebration of the ending of the fast; it is a declaration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Traditionally, Orthodox Easter eggs are dyed red as well to represent the blood of Christ, shed on the Cross, and the hard shell of the egg is seen to symbolize the sealed Tomb of Christ and the cracking of which symbolized his resurrection from the dead.