Coloured eggs and bunnies abound at Easter and yet they are ancient symbols that even pre-date Christianity. Johnny Scott investigates Eostre, the pagan spring festival
EASTER AND EGGS
Eggs beautifully painted for Easter.
Eggs have been a symbol of spring rebirth since antiquity. Engraved ostrich eggs have been discovered in Africa dating from 60,000 years ago; decorated eggs were commonly placed in the graves of ancient Sumerians and Egyptians 5,000 years ago; and pysanky, the Ukrainian art of decorating eggs elaborately for Easter with beeswax, dates from pre-Christian times.
The custom of colouring Easter eggs was started by the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who dyed eggs red to represent the blood of Christ, but was not officially adopted by the Church as representing the resurrection until 1610, when Pope Paul V proclaimed the prayer: “Bless, O Lord, we beseech thee, this thy creature of eggs, that it may become a wholesome sustenance to thy faithful servants, eating it in thankfulness to thee on account of the resurrection of the Lord.”
The two symbols of fertility, the egg and the hare, come together in the ancient German tradition of a mythical hare that laid coloured eggs in its form for good children to find on Easter Day. This was taken to the US by German immigrants in the 18th century and, as Easter gradually became commercialised, the hare became a rabbit and the egg became chocolate. Yum, yum !