As soon as there is a hint of Spring in the air, chocolate bunnies and highly decorated eggs fill the shelves… But why?
The tradition of giving decorated Easter Eggs goes back a long way and although many of us believe that it is a Catholic or Christian tradition, eggs have been found that predate history. Some can be traced way back to the times of the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians who lived over 5000 years ago!
Valley of The Eggs
Way back in the times of the Pharaohs, it was not chicken eggs that were decorated, but much larger ones which came from ostriches. They were highly decorated with precious metals like silver and gold and intricately engraved and carved. Some were not eggs at all, but large metal representations of eggs that were buried with their masters in their tombs. Whether this was placed there as a grave good or prized possession is unsure and some believe, that like the Christian faith, they were placed to resemble resurrection in the afterlife, which as we know, the Egyptians are famous for. Many decorative eggs have been found across North African regions, which indicate that this was a very common practice and one which went on for years, if not centuries.
The Eggs Of Rome
Easter Eggs or Paschal eggs are given at Easter to symbolise fertility and re-birth. The Christian tradition of decorating eggs can be traced as far back as the early Christians of Mesopotamia. Back then they stained their eggs red, in memory of the blood of Christ that was shed during his crucifixion. The Romans had well organised and documented rituals surrounding all things religious, and there is one which details the Easter Blessings of food. This includes blessings for lamb, bread and eggs. Later, many Christians believed that the egg symbolised the tomb in which Jesus was laid and when a bird appeared from the egg, it signified his resurrection.
Many of us are aware that the reason we celebrate Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday, is to use up all the eggs in our households, prior to fasting for the period known as Lent, which begins the following day on Ash Wednesday. Many believe that this tradition has also merged with the Easter egg tradition, as historically it was forbidden to consume meats, dairy and eggs during the period of Lent. However, just because people were not allowed to eat them, it did not stop the the hens from laying, so by the time Easter arrived they had stockpiled quite a collection, which needed to be eaten or used before they spoiled. This is why some countries traditional Easter dish is made primarily of eggs, such as Hornazo in Spain and considering there are so many spare eggs lying around, why many were given as decorated gifts or used to play games such as Easter egg hunts and downhill egg rolling.