When it comes to Easter, it’s an event on the calendar that means different things for different people. Religion, Personalised Easter chocolate, egg hunts, Easter bunnies, precious time with family, finally returning to something given up for lent, and more. For some, they paint eggs, something that many people associate with Christianity. In reality, this is an activity that goes back even further than one might think.
If you have your best-surprised face ready, the idea of painting eggs started as a Pagan tradition. The egg itself is associated with new life, and it was once used to welcome spring as a Pagan festival.
Elsewhere, painting eggs has also been a tradition in Iran for many thousands of years. On the spring equinox, Iranians celebrate the New Year festival (called Nowruz). As part of the celebrations, they have decorated eggs on display.
Pagan festivals and Iranian New Year – these are good examples of decorated eggs, but the question of why still remains. Why do we paint eggs in relation to Easter? According to some, the 13th century was the true birth of egg painting, and it could have been an essential part of the Byzantine Empire. Around this time, people started to create the link between Jesus’s resurrection and the egg. Over time, the symbolic nature of the egg grew.
During the Lenten season, what we now know as Lent, eggs were forbidden, and nobody could eat them. To signal the end of the fasting season, people would paint their eggs and then crack into them as the celebrations began.
Over the many centuries that followed, many other traditions have formed as a by-product of this original celebration. For example, in Eastern and Orthodox Catholic churches, individuals would paint their eggs red as a symbol of the bloodshed while Jesus was on the cross.
So, there we have it – although there are links between eggs and the Iranian New Year and various Pagan festivals, it’s thought that our own tradition of painting eggs started in the 13th century to celebrate the end of fasting. Suddenly, after weeks of leaving eggs untouched, people would paint and then eat them. If you paint your eggs red, this is a more recent tradition to symbolize Jesus’s blood on the cross.
Other Egg Traditions
As well as painting them, other traditions have evolved around the common egg, including egg rolling and egg hunts. Starting with the latter, this is normally designed for children, and it’s a tradition that sees all types of eggs hidden outside. Like waking up and finding Santa’s presents under the tree, children wake up and go on a search for eggs in the garden.
In terms of egg rolling, this is supposed to symbolize Christ’s tomb and how the stone was rolled away. If you need an example of how big traditions like this can get, the Easter Egg Roll is now something that takes place on the White House lawn every year.
Easter and Traditions
Like salt and pepper, like umbrellas and the rain, Easter and traditions go together beautifully. While some traditions are family- or community-based, others have performed the world over. In particular, people around much of the world paint eggs, create egg hunts for their children and even set up egg rolls.
Of course, others love to eat chocolate shaped like an egg (in fact, we ALL love to eat chocolate shaped like an egg), and this is another tradition to have formed in recent years!