Why do we have Easter eggs at Easter?

Traditional Easter eggs from LithuaniaTraditional Easter eggs from LithuaniaIn the early years of Christianity, Easter eggs symbolized the empty tomb of Jesus after his resurrection. Early Christians dyed chicken eggs with a red colouring, in memory of the blood that was shed at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Others used the colour green, to celebrate the new foliage emerging after winter. According to the oldest traditions, these decorated chicken eggs were offered as gifts to children. The giving of chocolate eggs wrapped in colourful foil is a more recent custom, originating in the 19th century.

A chef tosses a pancake on Shrove TuesdayA chef tosses a pancake on Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday

It was once customary to use up all the eggs in the house before Lent started. Lent is a period of 40 days in the Christian calendar between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, during which many Christians “give up” certain luxuries to mark Jesus’s time in the wilderness. Eating eggs was once forbidden during Lent, thus establishing the tradition of Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras), the last time eggs were allowed to be eaten before Lent.

Easter egg Easter egg "tree"

Gift eggs

Chickens, however, would not stop producing eggs during Lent, so a large store would build up by the end of the Lenten fast on Easter Day. These had to be eaten quickly to prevent spoiling. In a tradition said to date back to at least the 13th century, the eggs were hollowed and decorated and given to children as gifts, or used as decoration around the house. (In Germany, it is still customary to decorate trees and bushes with Easter eggs.) In Victorian Britain, the tradition of decorating eggs was adapted: cardboard eggs were covered with satin and filled with Easter gifts.

Traditional painted easter eggs in CroatiaTraditional painted easter eggs in Croatia

Chocolate eggChocolate eggIn 1873 the confectionery company J.S. Fry & Sons of England sold the first Easter egg made of chocolate in Britain. Since then, the giving of chocolate eggs has become commonplace in western countries, with 80 million Easter eggs sold in the UK alone.

1907 postcard featuring the Easter Bunny1907 postcard featuring the Easter Bunny

Easter Bunny

The tradition of Easter eggs being brought by the Easter Bunny is thought to have originated in Germany. German immigrants in Pennsylvania in the 18th century told their children about the Osterhase, or Easter Hare (not a rabbit). According to legend, children received gifts from the Easter Hare of coloured eggs in the nests that they made in their caps at Easter—but only if they had been good.

See also in Culture

The Ukrainian art of decorating eggs in the spring, known as pysanky, dates to ancient, pre-Christian times.

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