Easter Eggs: The Origins of the Tradition
As I get older, I realize how much I want each tradition in my home to have deep significance. The good thing is that most traditions do have rich meaning; the bad thing is that I don't always know the deeper sentiments of the traditions. Easter is filled with eggs and baskets, bunnies and blossoms; but why are they all tied to one of the most canonical Christian traditions? How do they all fit in? Let's delve into a few of the origins of these traditions so that you can make your Easter celebrations more intentional.
Spring is filled with new life. Flowers rise from the frozen ground. The days get longer and the sun warms the earth. I love waking up with sun once more and watching the birds fly past my window. As migrating birds return to find a mate and lay eggs, the skies are filled with bird song. Eggs have been a symbol of spring and new life for literally thousands of years. Spring festivals featuring eggs pre-date any Christian tradition. In the Jewish celebration of passover, eggs are an important part of the seder plate. They are a symbol of mourning and sacrifice. Jesus was raised Jewish and they were among his first followers.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity spread across the world, starting initially among the Jews. The story of Jesus' death and resurrection became honored across fledgling Christendom, many sought a way to celebrate such a miraculous event. It was natural for them to retain some of their old traditions of celebrating spring, but to add a few things that reminded them of Jesus, his sacrifice, and most importantly, that he lives again. The spring time and eggs are a wonderful representation of resurrection; life begins anew.
Eastertide directly follows Lent. Many people choose to give up eggs as a part of Lent, resulting in a massive of eggs that needed to be used. So Easter and an eggs are inherently intertwined. Here are a few ways that eggs are still used today in Easter traditions around the world.
The tradition of dying or painting eggs dates is ancient. The first decorated ostrich egg shells date back nearly 60,000 years ago. Were there even humans back then? The answer is yes, and clearly they thought decorating eggs was a great idea too. One of the earliest Christian traditions regarding eggs, was to dye the eggs a bright, rich red. The red was a symbol of blood shed during an atoning sacrifice. This allowed the Christian eggs to differ from other traditions.
Pysanky eggs, originating in Eastern Europe, are part of an ancient tradition pre-dating Christianity. These eggs are created using a wax-resist method to layer colors onto an egg. As the legend goes, the more colors on an egg, the more magic the egg contains. The storytellers say that somewhere in the world there is a giant serpent chained to the mountains. If the amount of painted eggs increases in the world from one year to the next, the serpent's chains are tightened. However, if the number decreases, the serpents chains are loosened. So the ancient art must continue to flourish! Read more about making your own pysanky eggs in our next post and get the tools here.
If you don't have time to make your own this year, we have these beautiful wooden eggs that have been hand-painted in Russia in some of the traditional pysanky patterns.
The innards of a dyed egg, eventually becomes hollow as time dries out the egg. The hollow egg became its own symbol of Christianity; the empty tomb. Later hollow eggs were made of of wood, and eventually plastic. These eggs can be filled with sweets and treasures. This year we found these Natural Hollow Wooden Eggs that we find incredibly beautiful.
We have enjoyed painting ours with symbols of spring; birds and flowers. We also love to put our favorite treats inside these eggs on Easter morning. The traditional hunt for Easter eggs is also symbolic. After news spread that Christ had risen from the dead, there were several of Christ's disciples who ran to see the empty tomb themselves. They thought somebody was playing a cruel trick and had moved the body, and they began searching. This search eventually led them to the resurrected Christ. Just like hunting for hollow eggs is like looking for Christ in an empty tomb.
Another tradition my husband introduced to me, is the tradition of rolling eggs down a hill. This is another symbol of the stone being rolled away from Christ's tomb, and realizing the tomb is empty. So this easter, take a few of your eggs to a hill and race your eggs. Egg carnage is to be expected unless you use wooden ones! This photo is from the egg rolling on the White House lawn in 1929.
Finally, the best way to use eggs at Easter is to eat them! If you like to eat your boiled eggs on Easter, get a few of these beautiful natural wood egg cups. You can paint them to match your hollow eggs or you can leave them in their natural state. Make deviled eggs, eggs benedict, pancakes, omelettes, quiche and any other favorite egg recipes.
We hope that some of this simple knowledge will add more meaning to your celebrations this year, enjoy your eggs in many different ways and create new traditions with deep intention.
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