Easter is a holiday that is rich in tradition. Not only is this the case from a religious standpoint, but this floating holiday is also often celebrated by extended families getting together and participating in the same activities year after year.
One of these activities involves spending an hour or two around the dining room table one night, about a week or two before Easter Sunday, to engage in an action that has become as synonymous with Easter as Christ’s resurrection. What are they doing? They’re coloring Easter eggs.
But have you ever wondered how this tradition got started? How did people come to celebrate Easter by creatively designing hard-boiled chicken eggs in a variety of styles and colors? Answering these questions begins with first understanding the meaning behind the egg itself.
The Meaning Behind the Easter Egg
Some historians report that the use of an egg to celebrate Easter has beginnings that extend as far back as the 13th century. However, there is some question as to whether the egg became an important part of this holiday because Christians viewed it as a symbol of Jesus emerging from the tomb or if it started with pagans of that time who considered the egg “an ancient symbol of new life,” thus making this food source a regular part of their annual springtime celebrations.
Still, others contend that the reason eggs were used was more of a practical matter as, at that time, Lenten fasting involved not eating any animal products whatsoever. Therefore, eggs were hard-boiled in an effort to increase their shelf life.
Then, once Easter arrived, people would take all of their extra eggs and give them to others (mainly the less fortunate) as a way to celebrate the holiday. Thus, the Easter egg was born. But why decorate them?
Bold, Beautifully Designed Eggs
One theory for decorating the Easter eggs is that it marked the end of fasting. So, why not celebrate by coloring their hard shells, further honoring the one food source that helped them make it through?
Another theory is that the eggs were initially colored red to symbolize the joy English villagers felt every Easter. Regardless of how it actually began, this is a tradition that still remains in full force today, with many people getting more and more creative with their Easter eggs beyond just coloring them a solid red.
In fact, if you do a Google Images search of “Easter egg designs,” you’ll see images of eggs decorated with almost endless designs. These range from the use of simple colors, shapes, and lines to the more elaborate eggs that undoubtedly took hours to craft into the masterpieces on display.
It’s also not uncommon for people nowadays to take those bold, beautifully decorated eggs and hide them around their house or yard. How did that get started? The interesting thing about the answer to this question is that this is when the Easter Bunny comes into play.
How Egg Hunts Came to Be (Enter the Easter Bunny)
Some theorists have traced Easter egg hunts back to the Pennsylvania Dutch of the 1700s who believed that a hare called ‘Oschter Haws’ laid eggs in the grass. Therefore, kids would build nests (which many symbolize today with the fake green “grass” that is placed at the bottom of the Easter basket) and search for the eggs.
This tradition is not only still celebrated today by many families, but also by entire communities. Many local organizations hold annual Easter egg hunts as a way to bring the folks living in the area together while giving children the opportunity to fill their baskets as high as possible with eggs and other Easter candies found around the grounds.
Easter Egg Traditions Around the World
Though egg decorating and hunting are common in the U.S., other areas of the world celebrate the Easter egg, too. For instance, children in Finland beg for chocolate eggs every Easter, going down the streets dressed as witches and carrying feather-decorated willow twigs.
The French celebrate the egg in a slightly different way by using 4,500 of them to create an omelet that is served in Haux’s town square. This giant-sized morning treat feeds around 1,000 people and began when Napoleon and his soldiers found themselves in southern France one night, which is when he ordered the town’s citizens to feed his entire army their eggs the following morning.
Easter eggs first made their appearance centuries ago in many different ways. Yet, this is one tradition that still remains strong as ever in many families—and communities—today.