The History Behind Easter Eggs

Bunnies really don’t lay eggs!

No one is absolutely sure who was first to use the egg as a symbol of Easter, but virtually all recognize its important message of renewal and rebirth. Whether the egg reminds us more of a springtime goddess of fertility or the renewed life of Jesus Christ, depends entirely on personal preference.

In Pagan belief, Easter is clearly linked to the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eastre (Latin: Oestre), the goddess of fertility. The goddess Eastre would entertain children by turning her favorite bird into a hare that would lay colorful eggs. It stands to reason that the celebration linked to the spring vernal equinox would be symbolized by the fertile egg - the seemingly dormant shell of the egg bursts forth with new life when the chick breaks free, just as the spring bursts forth with new life after the dormant winter.

Long before the birth of Jesus, celebrations of renewal were occurring: Egyptians and Persians would dye eggs in bright colors and give them away as a symbol of renewed life. And, according to the mythology of many Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures, the earth itself was hatched from a giant egg.

One Christian story, however, has Mary Magdalene going to the Emperor of Rome after the resurrection and presenting the leader with a red egg, proclaiming the rising of Christ. The red coloration represented the blood of Jesus, the egg shell His tomb, and the fertilized egg His renewed life. This may explain the emphasis on the color red in Pysanky, the Ukrainian art of egg decorating.

During his reign, Pope Gregory the Great (AD 590-604) banned Christians from the Lenten consumption of eggs. Eggs that were laid during this period would be boiled to preserve them until Easter Sunday. This denial of eggs for so many weeks coupled with the abundance of the boiled variation on Easter Sunday resulted in the overindulgence of eggs at Easter time.

Regardless of where the tradition originated, the whole world now seems to celebrate with eggs at Easter time. From hard-boiled to fresh and marshmallow to chocolate, the Easter variation on this tiny oblong vessel of life is astounding - so the question is, how do you want your eggs?