The Customs of Easter

Easter Eggs

Easter eggs have become a very important part of today's Easter celebration. From coloring eggs to hunting for eggs, giving eggs away to playing games using eggs, many use Easter eggs; but few know why eggs play such a big role in our Easter celebrations.

Easter eggs are symbols of continuing life and of resurrection. To many Christians Easter eggs are symbolic of Jesus' resurrection.

Easter eggs have been colored for many years. Even before Christ's birth the Chinese colored eggs red and gave them away. Colored and gilded eggs were exchanged by friends and colleagues during Roman and other pre-Christian spring celebrations, too. Two legends attempt to explain why Christians give away colored eggs at Easter. The first story says that, when Jesus was young, Mary would entertain him by boiling eggs and painting them red, green, and yellow. Since then every good mother and housewife has done the same at Easter. The second story states that, after Christ was buried, Mary Magdalene and two other ladies went to the tomb to anoint Christ's body with spices and perfumes. They also took along some eggs in a basket to eat when their task was completed. When they arrived at the tomb they discovered their eggs miraculously took on all the colors of the rainbow. These stories, while interesting, are not substantiated by any historical documents.

Eggs have been colored a number of ways for Easter. During the Middle Ages, Edward I of England purchased 450 eggs to be colored or covered in gold leaf for 18 pence. Most people did not have money to spend on coloring eggs so they used materials they had on hand. For green eggs, people boiled the eggs with spinach leaves or anemone petals. Gorse blossoms were boiled with the eggs for yellow eggs. For purple eggs, logwood chips were boiled with the eggs, and cochineal in the water produced scarlet eggs. Today vegetable dyes or aniline dyes are used to color eggs. Many Eastern European countries pride themselves on the painted eggs they produce. These countries paint their eggs with many bright, intricate designs. For example, in Poland, eggs are painted in geometrical or abstract patterns often containing Christian symbols like a fish or a cross. The people of Yugoslavia often include the letters "X" and "V" for "Christ is risen" on their eggs.

A number of countries use Easter eggs in games and contests played as part of their Easter celebration. In England and in the United States people roll eggs, sometimes along a prescribed course, for prizes of toys and other small gifts. In Germany, a prize is given to the person whose egg rolls down a track made of sticks the fastest. In Denmark and the Netherlands, the winner is the one whose egg rolls the furthest. In Egypt, children roll red and yellow eggs toward a row of eggs hoping to crack an egg. If they succeed, they win all the eggs.