An Ancient Tradition
Since ancient times, eggs have always been a symbol of life and fertility. With spring being the time when most birds in the wild lay eggs from which, a few weeks later, with new little birds will hatch.
It is no wonder that eggs are closely associated with spring and often played a role in ancient spring festivals.
Following the death and resurrection of Christ, early Christians began to link eggs, symbolically, with the resurrection thereby making it an Easter symbol.
As Christianity spread, the egg became, in effect, a common link between the ancient pagan religions and the new Christian religion. Pagan traditions associated with eggs and springtime, minus the pagan religious links, were easily absorbed into the Christian Easter traditions.
Egg Laying Rabbits
In a previous hub I described another ancient fertility symbol, the hares and rabbits, and how they came to be a part of the Christian Easter tradition.
However, besides both being examples of fertility, the two are also closely linked in the mythical story of how Ostara, the Saxon goddess of fertility, once entertained some children by changing her pet bird into a rabbit which then proceeded to lay brightly colored eggs for the children.
Other variations of this myth involve Ostara or other goddesses of fertility, changing a bird to a rabbit, in order to allow the pet to escape danger or some other predicament. In most cases the resulting rabbit had the ability to lay eggs.
Other customs linking eggs and Easter have to do with the Church's practice in the past of requiring the faithful to give up eating eggs during Lent. With the dawn of Easter, Lent ended and eggs were once again introduced into the diet. Thus, began the custom of having eggs for Easter.
In Germany, people would leave eggs for the children and tell them that they had been left by the Easter Hare (Rabbit).
When Germans began emigrating to America in colonial times they brought this custom with them giving rise to the American custom of Easter egg hunts in which eggs were hidden for children to search for and find on Easter morning.
Of course the Easter Rabbit (later Easter Bunny) was given credit for delivering and hiding the eggs and, in the minds of many children, it was the Easter Bunny that laid the eggs.
In other parts of Europe eggs were also scattered around for children to find.
Here, instead of the Easter Rabbit leaving them, the story was that they had been strewn by the ringing of the church bells on Easter, as another tradition in the medieval Church was the silencing of Church bells during Holy Week.
On Easter morning the bells would ring again and eggs would again be available, ergo the bells were spewing eggs as they rang (and miraculously, the eggs landed without breaking).
Of course, the eggs at Easter are dyed with bright colors which makes them more attractive and festive.
This tradition also goes back to ancient times where Greeks and other ancient peoples began the practice of dying and decorating eggs for festive occasions. It is easy to see how, with eggs an important part of the previous pagan spring festivals and later the Christian Easter celebration, that the eggs used on Easter would be decorated.
Among the Ukrainians egg dying rose to a high art making Ukrainian Easter eggs something to be admired and treasured.
Known as Pysanka (singular) or Pysanky (plural) in Ukrainian, these intricately decorated eggs are a tradition that is passed from generation to generation. Creating a single Pysanka (decorated egg) with a simple design can take as much as three hours by someone skilled in this art.
The more elaborate ones, of course, can take days to create. But, once created they are things of great beauty.
A Czar's Egg and Three Kisses
It was the Russian Czars, beginning with Alexander III and continuing with his son and last Czar, Nicholas II, who were responsible for the creation of some of the most famous eggs. These were the product, not of a chicken, but of the Russian jeweler Peter Karl Fabergé.
In Russia, Easter remains the major religious holiday for the Orthodox Church and its members.
A custom among Orthodox Christians in Russia is the exchanging with loved ones of decorated eggs and three kisses. Following this tradition, Czar Alexander III in 1884 commissioned the House of Fabergé to create a jeweled egg for his Czarina Maria Fyodorovna.
The year 1885 would be Alexander's and Maria's twentieth wedding anniversary and he wanted something special for her for Easter that year. Carl Fabergé crafted a beautiful gold egg with a hen.
The Czarina was so pleased with the gift that for every year after that the Czar had a new egg made for her. Following Alexander's death, his son, Czar Nicholas II, continued the custom by ordering two eggs, one for his mother the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna and one for his wife the Czarina Alexandria.
A total of 56 Fabergé Easter Eggs were produced for the Russian Imperial Family, but only ten of these beautiful eggs remain in Russia today.
Check Out My Other Easter Hubs
- The Church of the Holy Sepulchure
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- Why the Date of Easter Changes Each Year
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- Palm Sunday
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- The Origins of the Easter Rabbit
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