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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.

Egyptians and 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 egg.

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.

ImageThe rabbit or hare was the symbol of fertility, new life and of the moon in ancient Egypt.

 

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 eggs.

Other Eastern 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.

Paska, the 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.

Early Christians 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 misfortune.

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.

The traditional 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.