How the egg came to symbolize Easter
The joy and hope of
Easter Resurrection has been symbolized for centuries by lambs, rabbits, lilies
and crosses. The simple egg, however is perhaps the oldest and most universal
symbol of rebirth and new life. The custom of offering Easter eggs, either
chocolate or hard boiled and colored, dates back well beyond the early years of
Christianity to the most ancient pagan traditions.
Persians used to dye eggs in spring colors and give them to friends as a symbol
of renewed life long before Christ was born. The myths of several Eastern and
middle Eastern cultures maintain that the earth itself was hatched from a giant
Scholars believe the
name Easter is derived from Oestar, a goddess of Spring and renewal. The rabbit
or hare was the symbol of fertility, new life and of the moon in ancient Egypt.
It may have become an Easter symbol because the date for Easter is determined
by the moon. Also the ancient Egyptians called the hare Wenu, an insignia of
the rising of the sun, Ra, and of the resurrective powers of Osiris.
rabbit or hare was the symbol of fertility, new life and of the moon in
Polish legend has it
that on the first Good Friday a man was taking a basket of eggs to market to
sell. On the way he put the basket down and ran to help Christ carry the cross.
When he returned, the eggs were supposedly decorated in beautiful colors and
designs. Local Polish immigrants continued the tradition of 'Pisnaki' decorated
Europeans, Czechs, Romanians and Ukrainians followed the tradition. Some of the
designs have significant meanings and are handed down in a family from
generation to generation. Others are characteristic of different regions. The
eggs are always included in the food basket when it is taken to the church for
the traditional Easter Saturday blessing.
traditional Ukranian Easter bread, was as intricately decorated as wedding
cakes. The decorations of tiny lambs, doves, flowers and other symbolic figures
were made of dough rather than frosting. The bread itself is symbolic of the
bread used at the Last Supper.
Easter's place on
the calendar was not actually fixed to the Sunday after the first full moon of
Spring until 325 AD by the Roman Emperor Constantine. The emperor may also be
responsible for starting the traditional Easter Parade when he ordered every
citizen to wear his or her best clothing to observe the Holy Day.
believed the week before Easter was a good time to be baptized, calling it
'White Week.' They wore new white clothes as a sign of their new life.
Europeans came to believe that a new piece of clothing worn on Easter Sunday
would bring good luck. Old or used garments would usher in a year of
The ancient spring
rituals of building bonfires at dawn to symbolize the triumph of light and life
over death and darkness.
The lily has long
been considered the flower of the season, commemorating the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. Medieval artists, because of its whiteness,
depicted the lily as symbolic of the purity of the Virgin Mary.
On Good Friday, all
businesses and retail shops in New Orleans, closed from noon till three to
commemorate Christ's three hours on the cross before he died. The practice
continued until the 1970s.
White House Easter Monday egg roll, always the day after Easter, dates back to
1878 with President Rutherford B. Hayes. Children were given the run of the
rolling green lawns and brought their own Easter baskets and eggs.
The decorations and
celebrations of the holiday may change with new generations, but the story of
the Resurrection, Christianity's assurance of life everlasting endures.