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Easter eggs, also called Paschal eggs, are decorated eggs that are often given to celebrate Easter or springtime. As such, Easter eggs are common during the season of Eastertide (Easter season). The oldest tradition is to use dyed and painted chicken eggs, but a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with confectionery such as jelly beans. Eggs, in general, were a traditional symbol of fertility, and rebirth. In Christianity, for the celebration of Eastertide, Easter eggs symbolize the empty tomb of Jesus: though an egg appears to be like the stone of a tomb, a bird hatches from it with life; similarly, the Easter egg, for Christians, is a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave, and that those who believe will also experience eternal life.
The practice of decorating eggshell is ancient, predating Christian traditions. Ostrich eggs with engraved decoration that are 60,000 years old have been found in Africa. Decorated ostrich eggs, and representations of ostrich eggs in gold and silver, were commonly placed in graves of the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians as early as 5,000 years ago.
The Christian custom of the Easter egg, however, can be traced as far back as the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at his crucifixion. The Christian Church officially adopted the custom, regarding the eggs as a symbol of the resurrection. The Roman Ritual, the first edition of which was published in 1610 but which contains texts of much older date, has among the Easter Blessings of Food, along with those for lamb, bread, and new produce, the following blessing for eggs:
Lord, let the grace of your blessing + come upon these eggs, that they be healthful food for your faithful who eat them in thanksgiving for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever.
Although the tradition is to use dyed or painted chicken eggs, a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with candy such as jelly beans. These eggs can be hidden for children to find on Easter morning, which may be left by the Easter Bunny. They may also be put in a basket filled with real or artificial straw to resemble a bird’s nest.
The Easter egg tradition may also have merged into the celebration of the end of the privations of Lent in the West. Historically, it was traditional to use up all of the household’s eggs before Lent began. Eggs were originally forbidden during Lent as well as on other traditional fast days in Western Christianity (this tradition still continues among the Eastern Christian Churches). Likewise, in Eastern Christianity, meat, eggs, and dairy are all prohibited during the Lenten fast.
This established the tradition of Pancake Day being celebrated on Shrove Tuesday. This day, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins, is also known as Mardi Gras, a French phrase which translates as “Fat Tuesday” to mark the last consumption of eggs and dairy before Lent begins.
In the Orthodox Church, Great Lent begins on Clean Monday, rather than Wednesday, so the household’s dairy products would be used up in the preceding week, called Cheesefare Week.
During Lent, since chickens would not stop producing eggs during this time, a larger than usual store might be available at the end of the fast if the eggs had not been allowed to hatch. The surplus, if any, had to be eaten quickly to prevent spoiling. Then, with the coming of Easter, the eating of eggs resumes. Some families cook a special meatloaf with eggs in it to be eaten with the Easter dinner.
One would have been forced to hard boil the eggs that the chickens produced so as not to waste food, and for this reason the Spanish dish hornazo (traditionally eaten on and around Easter) contains hard-boiled eggs as a primary ingredient. In Hungary, eggs are used sliced in potato casseroles around the Easter period.
- The Legend of Paschal Eggs (Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church)
- David Leeming (2005). The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
For many, Easter is synonymous with fertility symbols such as the Easter Rabbit, Easter Eggs, and the Easter lily.
- Anne Jordan (5 April 2000). Christianity. Nelson Thornes. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
Easter eggs are used as a Christian symbol to represent the empty tomb. The outside of the egg looks dead but inside there is new life, which is going to break out. The Easter egg is a reminder that Jesus will rise from His tomb and bring new life. Orthodox Christians dye boiled eggs red to make red Easter eggs that represent the blood of Christ shed for the sins of the world.
- The Guardian, Volume 29. H. Harbaugh. 1878. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
Just so, on that first Easter morning, Jesus came to life and walked out of the tomb, and left it, as it were, an empty shell. Just so, too, when the Christian dies, the body is left in the grave, an empty shell, but the soul takes wings and flies away to be with God. Thus you see that though an egg seems to be as dead as a stone, yet it really has life in it; and also it is like Christ’s dead body, which was raised to life again. This is the reason we use eggs on Easter. (In days past some used to color the eggs red, so as to show the kind of death by which Christ died,-a bloody death.)
- Gordon Geddes, Jane Griffiths (22 Jan 2002). Christian belief and practice. Heinemann. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
Red eggs are given to Orthodox Christians after the Easter Liturgy. They crack their eggs against each other’s. The cracking of the eggs symbolizes a wish to break away from the bonds of sin and misery and enter the new life issuing from Christ’s resurrection.
- Neil R. Grobman (1981). Wycinanki and pysanky: forms of religious and ethnic folk art from the Delaware Valley. University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
During the spring cycle of festivals, ancient pre-Christian peoples used decorated eggs to welcome the sun and to help ensure the fertility of the fields, river …
- “Egg Cetera #6: Hunting for the world’s oldest decorated eggs | University of Cambridge”. Cam.ac.uk. 2012-04-10. Retrieved 2013-03-31.
- Treasures from Royal Tombs of Ur By Richard L. Zettler, Lee Horne, Donald P. Hansen, Holly Pittman 1998 pgs 70-72
- Donahoe’s Magazine, Volume 5. T.B. Noonan. 1881. Retrieved 7 April 2012.
The early Christians of Mesopotamia had the custom of dyeing and decorating eggs at Easter. They were stained red, in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at His crucifixion. The Church adopted the custom, and regarded the eggs as the emblem of the resurrection, as is evinced by the benediction of Pope Paul V., about 1610, which reads thus: “Bless, O Lord! we beseech thee, this thy creature of eggs, that it may become a wholesome sustenance to thy faithful servants, eating it in thankfulness to thee on account of the resurrection of the Lord.” Thus the custom has come down from ages lost in antiquity.)
- Vicki K. Black (1 Jul 2004). Welcome to the Church Year: An Introduction to the Seasons of the Episcopal Church. Church Publishing, Inc.
The Christians of this region in Mesopotamia were probably the first to connect the decorating of eggs with the feast of the resurrection of Christ, and by the Middle Ages this practice was so widespread that in some places Easter Day was called Egg Sunday. In parts of Europe, the eggs were dyed red and were then cracked together when people exchanged Easter greetings. Many congregations today continue to have Easter egg hunts for the children after services on Easter Day.
- The Roman Ritual. Part XI, Blessings and other sacramentals