Whenever you think of Easter, you think of Easter eggs. Whether they're plastic or the real thing dyed in all kinds of crazy colors and patterns, Easter eggs are an essential part of any celebration of this spring holiday.
But have you ever wondered how these colorful, little orbs of delight came to be associated with the most important Christian holiday, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? If so, you've come to the right place.
Though it's hard to see the connection immediately, there are a few explanations as to how Easter eggs became such an indelible symbol of the religious holiday. Like most traditions in our culture today, the precise origins of Easter eggs are a bit fuzzy, but here's a few reasons why Easter eggs have come to take a special place in our hearts.
What Do Easter Eggs Symbolize?
Though Easter is a Christian holiday, Easter eggs might have pagan origins. Long before Christianity even existed, eggs symbolized new life and the rebirth of nature in festivals and spring celebrations. When Easter began, Christians adopted the egg symbol, but this time they related it to Jesus, comparing the broken shell of the egg to the opening of Jesus' tomb during his resurrection, thus symbolizing the rebirth of mankind. The Easter egg tradition may have been born out of practicality as well. It was custom for Christians to abstain from eating eggs during Lent. Since eggs were easier to preserve without refrigeration in the old days, not to mention that there would be a surplus of eggs since no one had been eating them for 40 days, they were often eaten to break the fast on Easter Sunday.
Why Do We Dye Easter Eggs?
Though dyeing Easter eggs is a big activity for families to do before the holiday, it doesn't have the most whimsical origins. Some say that the tradition began in memory of Simon of Cyrene whose basket full of eggs had miraculously turned different colors when he returned to pick it up after carrying the cross of Jesus. Another theory is that Mary, the mother of Jesus, placed a basket of white eggs on the ground when she went to visit her son on the cross, and they turned red as his blood dripped onto them. Others say that Mary Magdalene brought a basket of eggs with her when she went to visit Jesus' tomb, and they all remarkably transformed into different colors of the rainbow.
However, dyeing eggs for decorative purposes has been a part of many cultures for centuries, in addition to dyeing eggs for Easter. King Edward I of England is said to have popularized the custom of dyeing eggs for Easter when he reportedly had 450 eggs boiled and decorated to give to members of the royal household for Easter in 1307. Faberge, the maker of those extremely opulent decorative eggs, created a series of Easter eggs for the Russian Tsar and his family between 1885 and 1916. And if you have celebrated Easter in the United States for the past 135 years or so, you've probably used dye kits from PAAS, which sells more than 10 million of these during the Easter season.
Where Did Easter Egg Hunts Come From?
When it's Easter, you know it's time to grab your basket and go a-hunting to see how many vibrantly colored eggs you can find hidden outside by the Easter Bunny. This is such a playful activity for such a somber holiday, but it might have gotten its start in Scotland when young people used to go out and search for eggs from wild fowl for their breakfast on Easter Sunday. The leader of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther is also said to have had egg hunts where men hid eggs for women and children, which may be connected to the idea that eggs symbolize the tomb of Jesus.
When Did Eggs Get Turned Into Chocolate?
We don't just love Easter eggs because they're fun to decorate and find. We also love them because they can be turned into delectable pieces of chocolate. Some geniuses in France and Germany first created chocolate eggs in the 19th century. However, it was Englishman John Cadbury who helped propel chocolate eggs to become a beloved Eastertime treat with their first incarnation in 1875. The first Cadbury chocolate eggs were made out of dark chocolate, but it was the launch of milk chocolate Cadbury eggs in 1905 that helped make them an Easter best-seller.
When Did Plastic Easter Eggs Become Popular?
Real eggs better watch out. Plastic Easter eggs are coming for you. You know the ones. Some people like to dye real eggs just for decoration, but they use the cheap, multi-colored plastic eggs for their hunts, filling them with coins, candy or jelly beans. There doesn't seem to be a good history of how these plastic eggs came about or why they became so popular, but Bloomberg reported in 2010 that plastic eggs were now taking over the holiday. It's kind of weird how something that's meant to symbolize new life and rebirth would be supplanted by an artificial, plastic version, but that's the commercialization of holidays for you.
Photo: Cyndy Sims Parr | Flickr