Origins of the Easter Egg

While most people happily accept the custom of exchanging eggs on Easter few may know the real reason for this fun tradition.  You may be surprised to know that exchanging Easter eggs with one another is a custom that goes back thousands of years. The egg was a symbol of rebirth long before its association with Easter. Many ancient cultures have used the egg to symbolize both rebirth and the universe. Ancient peoples such as the Persians, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Gauls, and the Romans all used the egg in their springtime celebrations. Most historical experts state that the origin of the Easter egg predates the origin of Christianity.

However, when Christianity spread to the lands of these ancient cultures, the exchanging of colored eggs became incorporated as part of the memorial celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, (the holy day that came to be known as Easter). These Easter eggs were colored and given as tokens to remind Christians of the tomb and Jesus’ triumphant victory over death.

It is the influence of the traditional spring rites that have made Easter so eggstra-special. And myths coming to us from an incredibly distant past have shown man’s relationship with the egg to be a very deep seated one. This is shown in the old Latin proverb: Omne vivum ex ovo. This translates to “all life comes from an egg”. From ancient India to Polynesia, from Iran, Greece, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, from Central America to the west coast of South America, there are reports of myths that tell of the whole universe created out of an egg.  From all these reports it is not unusual that in almost all ancient cultures eggs have been held as an emblem of life.

In Europe eggs were hung on New Year trees, on Maypoles, and on St. John’s trees in midsummer. Throughout all of these holidays the egg was meant as a symbol of the regenerative forces of nature. Later it was believed that eggs laid on Good Friday, if kept for a hundred years, would have their yolks turn to diamond. It was also believed that if Good Friday eggs were cooked on Easter they would promote the fertility of the trees and crops and protect against sudden deaths.

Eggs were also reported to be dyed and eaten at the spring festivals in ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome. The Persians of that time gave eggs as gifts during the vernal equinox. But it is not very clear how those colored eggs have come to dominate the Easter basket. It is speculated that it was introduced in Europe during the course of the fifteenth century. It is believed that missionaries or knights of the Crusades are thought to have brought the concept of the coloring of eggs westwards.

In medieval times many of the eggs were dyed red. Red was in memory for a joyous Easter celebration or to honor the blood that Christ shed. During the strictest fast during Lent of forty days no eggs were eaten.

Yet today Easter eggs are specially decorated eggs given to celebrate the Easter holiday or springtime. While the oldest tradition is to use dyed or painted chicken eggs, a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with confectionery such as jellybeans. Easter eggs are also often made from spun or pressed sugar with treats hidden inside.  These eggs are often hidden, (allegedly by the Easter Bunny), for good children to find on Easter morning. Otherwise, they are usually put in a basket filled with real or artificial straw to resemble a bird’s nest.