The modern Easter egg comes from a diverse combination of several religious, pagan and spring time traditions. When Christianity was spreading, the pope at the time, Pope Gregory the Great, ordered his missionaries to combine the existing pagan religious traditions, sites, customs and festivals where they could.
The resurrection of Christ falls during the Spring Equinox, which meant that there were many pagan customs and traditions used in the celebration of the Spring Equinox. Thus, the Easter holiday embraced and used symbols, customs and traditions from a variety of places. So, where did the Easter egg come from? Well, actually it has several origins.
Let’s begin by looking at the main pagan celebration, the feast of Eostre. During the Spring Equinox, the German Anglo-Saxons worshipped the goddess of springtime and fertility, Eostre. They had a big feast to welcome in the earth’s new life, spring, and to ask for favor in fertility and crops. Rabbits and eggs were used in the celebration because of the pagan belief that rabbits were Eostre’s earthly incarnation and eggs were symbolic of the start of new life. Thus, the egg symbolized the rebirth of land and became a big part of the Easter tradition, along with the rabbit, which evolved into the Easter Bunny.
Of course, because the egg is the universal symbol of new life and because Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection, or new life, of Christ, the egg as a symbol of life makes sense. Thus the egg, whether colored, plastic or decorated, is symbolic of Christ’s new life.
Now we know why the egg is part of the Easter celebration. But why do we decorate Easter eggs? The custom of decorating eggs started far before the resurrection of Christ. In fact, the ancient Zoroastrians painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration. Their New Year happened to fall on the Spring Equinox, so once again, the correlation in date helped the Christian missionaries determine what customs to incorporate with their own Christian celebrations. Over 2,500 years ago, the Zoroastrians would decorate eggs and present them to the king. It was a symbol of respect, and of giving yourself, and your life, over to the king.
The Easter egg as a symbol of Easter claims origin from a number of different traditions. It is a melting pot of customs and religious observances, and the egg, whether colored blood red or pastel purple or natural white, is an integral part of Easter today.