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A Brief History of Easter Eggs

by Bethany (follow)
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The Easter Egg is commonly seen as a Christian custom, but it actually has roots in pagan traditions that predate Christianity.

The first known incidence for egg-decorating was discovered in Africa, over 60,000 years ago, with engraved ostrich eggs. The Ancient Sumerians and Egyptians were also recorded to have placed gold and silver ostrich eggs on graves, over 5000 years ago. ‘Easter eggs’, as we know it today, date back as far as Mesopotamia, when early Christians dyed eggs red as a symbol of the blood of Christ at his crucifixion. More elaborate decorations were adopted by Christians from other practices over time.

According to Christian beliefs, eggs symbolise resurrection. The hard shell is synonymous with the Tomb of Christ, encasing new life within, and breaking the egg represents Jesus Christ returning to life. Traditionally, chicken eggs were dyed or painted, but this has been substituted by eggs made of chocolate or plastic in more modern times.

"Red Paschal Egg with Cross" by ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Eating eggs and dairy products was forbidden during Lent, the forty days before Easter, so consuming eggs before Lent began became a tradition in Western Christianity. This is where Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Tuesday, originated; pancakes were the quickest and easiest way to use up eggs and dairy products before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The eggs laid during Lent were consumed after the forty-day period, hard-boiled before they had a chance to go bad.

In the US and the UK, egg-rolling contests are a popular activity for children. It is also considered a reenactment of the way the stone sealing Jesus’ tomb rolled away. The White House Easter Egg Roll is one of the more prominent events in the US.

"Barack Obama at the 2009 White House Easter Egg Roll" by White House (Pete Souza), Flickr

Around the world, Easter eggs play a large role in various cultural practices. Polish traditions have baskets of eggs blessed during Holy Saturday, along with other symbolic foods. Various Central European folk traditions conceal eggs for children to find in the garden.

European Slavic countries have a tradition where females gift eggs in return for a ‘whipping’ with fresh willow branches. The whipping is symbolic, said to wish health and beauty on the female. Other traditions craft artificial eggs of porcelain, or wax, that hold little surprises for person it is gifted to — see the jewelled Fabergé Egg from Russia.

Coronation Egg, from Fabergé.com

What are some of your Easter traditions? If you don't celebrate Easter, are there any similarities between these practices and your own? Share them with us in the comments, or start a discussion on the forum!

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