My family does not celebrate Easter but we love egg dishes any time of the year. And the egg hunt, a Western tradition that did not became popular in this country until the last two decades, is not something I grew up with. And why is the egg associated with Easter? Lots of reasons, some religious; others not. In other words, the Easter egg is both a pagan and Christian tradition.
Pagan? Oh, yes. But let’s be clear about what paganism is because I find it insane when people equate it when something evil. Paganism refers to many polytheistic religious beliefs that were prevalent before Christianity came into the picture. As they continued to exist after Christianity grew strong as a religion and Christian authorities began to brand anything un-Christian as evil, the negative connotation stuck.
Today, many people think that a pagan is someone who doesn’t believe in “god” — which is true, in a way, because a pagan does not believe in the Christian god. But what is often left unsaid is that a pagan believes in some other god which is not evil at all except from the perspective of Christians who insist that anything outside the Christian doctrine is necessarily evil. But what does that have to do with Easter? Nothing. But it has everything to do with the bunny and the egg which, over time, came to be known as the Easter bunny and Easter eggs.
THE RABBIT HAS LONG BEEN PART OF SPRING FESTIVITIES
People have long celebrated the coming of spring and, before Christianity, the Germanic goddess ?ostre (or Ostara) of fertility has been theorized as the namesake for Easter. The hare, a symbol of fertility, has been associated with the festival of ?ostre.
PAINTED EGGS ARE OLDER THAN CHRISTIANITY
Painting and decorating eggs predate Christianity. Archeological findings show that as early as 60,000 years ago, ostrich eggs were used as flasks and were sometimes decorated with engravings and painting.
Eggs as a symbol of rebirth predates Christianity as well. Ancient Sumerians and Egyptians placed painted ostrich eggs shells in graves for the resurrection of the dead.
Ancient spring festivals included the egg — spring is a “rebirth” after the deadness of winter and the egg was the perfect symbol for new life.
In Christian belief, Easter is the day of resurrection when Jesus rose from the dead. Resurrection = rebirth. The earliest Easter eggs were dyed red to represent the blood of Christ. If you’re familiar with religious assimilation, Christians decided to adopt the pagan spring egg tradition in the context of Christian beliefs (they did the same with a lot of winter traditions which eventually became “Christmas” traditions).
Ergo, the legend that Mary Magdalene went to the Emperor of Rome, greeted him with “Christ has risen”, the Emperor pointed to an egg on his table and said, “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.” And the egg miraculously turned blood red. Traditions evolved and, over time, that red egg became hard-boiled eggs with painted shells and, much later, plastic eggs filled with chocolate and candies.
HOW DID THE RABBIT AND EGGS COME TOGETHER TO BECOME EASTER SYMBOLS?
History.com has this to say:
According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit’s Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests.
So, there. Easter Sunday may be a Christian holiday but many of its symbols are thousands of years older than Christianity and rooted on pagan traditions.