Easter Eggs

The Easter Egg predates the Christian holiday of Easter. The custom may have its origin in paganism, for a great many pagan customs, celebrating the return of spring, gravitated to Easter. The exchange of eggs in the springtime is a custom that was centuries old when Easter was first celebrated by Christians. Given as gifts by the ancient Greeks, Persians, and Chinese at their spring festivals, the egg also appears in pagan mythology, where we read of the Sun-Bird being hatched from the World Egg. In some pagan customs, the Heaven and Earth were thought to have been formed from two halves of an egg. From the earliest times, the egg was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures, an emblem of the germinating life of early spring. Eggs were often wrapped in gold leaf or, if you were a peasant, colored brightly by boiling them with the leaves or petals of certain flowers. 

During the 4th century consuming eggs during Lent became taboo. However, spring is the peak egg-laying time for hens, so people began to cook eggs in their shells to preserve them. Eventually people began decorating and hiding them for children to find during Easter, which gave birth to the Easter Egg Hunt. Other egg-related games also evolved like egg tossing and egg rolling.
Because the use of eggs was forbidden during Lent, they were brought to the table on Easter Day, coloured red to symbolize the Easter joy. The recorded history of middle ages is full of such instances. Edward I's accounts for 1290 include the expense of purchasing hundreds of eggs to be distributed to his household. In the 17th century, pope Paul V blessed the humble egg in a prayer to be used in England, Scotland, and Ireland: "Bless, O Lord, we beseech Thee, this Thy creature of eggs, that it may become a wholesome sustenance to Thy faithful servants, eating in thankfulness to Thee, on account of the Resurrection of Our Lord." This custom is found not only in the Latin but also in the Oriental Churches. The symbolic meaning of a new creation of mankind by Jesus risen from the dead was probably an invention of later times.  Easter eggs, the children are told, come from Rome with the bells which on Thursday go to Rome and return Saturday morning. A Polish folktale tells of the Virgin Mary giving eggs to soldiers at the cross as she pleaded with them to be merciful. As her tears dropped they spattered droplets on the eggs mottling them with a myriad of colors. 

The sponsors in some countries give Easter eggs to their god-children. Coloured eggs are used by children at Easter in a sort of game which consists in testing the strength of the shells (Kraus, Real-Encyklop die, s. v. Ei). Both coloured and uncoloured eggs are used in some parts of the United States for this game, known as "egg-picking". Another practice is the "egg-rolling" by children on Easter Monday on the lawn of the White House in Washington. Children also hunt colored eggs and place them in Easter baskets along with the modern version of real Easter eggs -- those made of plastic or chocolate candy.

Children in France, Holland and England go from house to house asking for Easter eggs, similar to our custom of Halloween trick-or-treating. German children are given small presents which are hidden inside imitation Easter eggs.

In the Russian Orthodox church, eggs are blessed at church during Easter time and are a special breakfast on Easter morning. In fact Russia has a special place in the Easter Egg history. In 1883, the Russian Czar commissioned Peter Faberge to make a special egg for his wife. Faberge made intricate, delicately decorated eggs which later went on to be famous as the Faberge egg and is perhaps the best known of all the decorated eggs.

But believe it or not the Chinese are the first people who painted eggs. During Spring Festivals almost 3000 years ago, they exchanged red eggs as part of their celebration.