The history of eggs and Easter is a fascinating one.
If you’ve ever wondered what baskets of candy, chocolate bunnies, and colored eggs have to do with the religious side of Easter, you’re not alone. While there is no one connection that all historians agree on between present day and the history of eggs and Easter, there is a consensus that the rituals of decorating eggs, making nests, eating candy and telling stories of the Easter Bunny all have pagan origins, before the rise of Christianity. It was a time when agriculture was as prominent, or even more so, as it is today, but when people believed a bit of magic was useful on the farm too. Explore the connections between modern-day Easter and the history of Easter eggs.
History of Eggs and Easter
Any farmer will tell you that spring—the season when Easter is celebrated—is the start of the growing season and the beginning of new life. It’s not a stretch to see the Easter egg as a symbol for birth and the beginning of life. For pagan populations worshiping and celebrating the Spring Equinox, the seasons, and Nature, Easter symbols like eggs were an embodiment of the magic that would bring the life back to the fields and forests to sustain surrounding human populations.
The theme of rebirth and new life depicted in Easter symbols is found in many cultures and religions, including the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other origins that are possibly part of the history of eggs and Easter include:
- According to a Forbes.com article, historical data from 500 A.D. shows that Persian followers of a religion called Zoroastrianism—one of the world’s oldest religions still practiced today—had a holiday on the Spring Equinox where eggs were decorated, shared, and consumed.
- The Roman god Mars, best known as the god of war, is the namesake for the month of March. In addition to his warring duties, Mars was also the god of fertility. According to the Forbes.com article, in Roman times, the egg was representative of “the Bacchic or Dinoysian mysteries,” and was used for magic or to offer protection. Eggs have also been found in burials, suggesting they symbolized resurrection as well, which is in keeping with the Christian beliefs of the holiday.
- The Forbes piece also points out how, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Mary Magdalene brought cooked eggs to Jesus’ tomb, and they turned bright red when she saw he had been resurrected. It’s something that happened to the emperor of Rome, Tiberius, as well, when he insisted that “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.”
History of the Easter Bunny
The history of the Easter Bunny is similar to the history of eggs and Easter in that it comes from pagan rituals and traditions. In the early centuries, Anglo Saxons and other Germanic peoples honored Eastre, the goddess of fertility, birth, and spring. She’s also called Oestre or Ostara. One story goes that she arrived late for spring and discovered all the animals frozen, so she turned one frozen bird into a hare so it could survive the long winter. However, the rabbit could still lay eggs one day a year, which it would give to children.
German immigrants coming to the U.S. brought the tradition of the Easter Bunny, or “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws,” with them, according to History.com. Children made nests—now Easter baskets—for the brightly colored eggs the bunny would bring and hide around the house and outdoors.
Whatever the truth behind the history of eggs and Easter, the traditions all come from societies that relied heavily on the agricultural practices that kept close watch over the passage of the sun and the seasons. Like decorating eggs and celebrating an egg-laying bunny, our agricultural history and traditions are those that last throughout the ages.
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