Easter eggs are ubiquitous this time of year, ranging from chocolate delicacies to hard-boiled coloured eggs. The history of this ancient symbol is complex and long.
A Roman saying goes: “Omne vivum ex ovo,” or “All life comes from an egg.” Many cultures hold with the idea that life begins within an egg. Hence, eggs have come to symbolise spring and the new life that emerges in this season after a long, cold winter.
During Passover, a hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water symbolises new life as well as the Passover sacrifice that was made at the Jerusalem temple. In ancient times, the Persians began colouring eggs for their New Year celebration, which occurred at the Spring Equinox.
In Medieval Europe, eggs were forbidden during Lent, a 40-day time of privation. Eggs were finally allowed when Easter came around, leading them to become symbols of new life and celebration.
Later, it was believed that eggs laid on Good Friday, which were often boiled to preserve them until Easter, protected against sudden death and promoted crop and tree fertility.
Colouring and Decorating Easter Eggs
In an Orthodox tradition, friends received red eggs, representing the blood of Jesus, along with Easter greetings.
In modern times, decorating eggs has been raised to an art form, and includes dyeing, painting, wrapping with yarn, using glue and glitter, and other methods, including batik techniques that produce brilliant colours.
Jewelled eggs by Faberge, made for the Russian Imperial Court, are perhaps the ultimate decorated egg.
Eggs have symbolised spring for quite a long time. The egg symbolises fertility and new life, as the chick emerges from its shell.
Eggs also symbolise the tomb from which Jesus emerged.
Games Played with Easter Eggs
In Britain, a popular Easter activity involves rolling painted eggs down steep hills. In the United States, eggs are generally rolled across flat lawns with a spoon. The most celebrated Easter egg roll takes place on the White House lawn. The Easter egg hunt involves adults hiding decorated eggs for children to find.
In Northern England, players armed with hard-boiled eggs hit each other’s “weapon,” and the winner is the one left with an intact egg. This is called “egg dumping” or “egg jarping.” Variations of this game are played in Europe and Slavic countries, as well as Louisiana in the southern United States.
The long and complex tradition of combining eggs with the Easter celebration exists in cultures around the world, the egg itself representing new life and the resurrection of Jesus, just as chicks emerge from their shells.
Rich with symbolism and historical significance, the ancient combination of eggs, spring, and Easter should stay intact for a long time to come.