Easter and the history of the egg

Easter is a festival and holiday which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the date of celebration varies from March to April, depending on the date of the March equinox. Many worldwide gather for this major holiday for the religion to feast, attend church services, and hunt Easter eggs. Easter Sunday marks the end of Lent, which is a 40-day period of fasting and reflection. It follows Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Easter egg hunt and the Easter bunny

In many pre-Christian societies eggs held associations with spring and new life. Early Christians adapted these beliefs, making the egg a symbol of the resurrection and the empty shell a metaphor for Jesus’ tomb.

In the medieval period eating eggs was forbidden during Lent, the 40 day period before Easter. On Easter Sunday the fast ended with feasting and merriment, and eggs were considered an important part of these celebrations. This was especially true for poorer people who couldn’t afford meat. Eggs were also given to the church as Good Friday offerings, and villagers often gave eggs as gifts to the lord of the manor at Easter. Royals got involved with this tradition too – in 1290 Edward I purchased 450 eggs to be decorated with colours or gold leaf and then distributed to his household.

You can thank Germany for all your childhood memories of hunting down colourful eggs, and eating way too many chocolate treats topped with those distinctive long ears. That’s because the Easter Bunny comes from the German tradition of the Osterhase – literally Easter hare.

In the German Lutheran tradition the Easter egg hunt is linked to the Easter Bunny – or the Easter Hare as he was originally known. The first written reference to the Easter Hare was in 1682 in Georg Franck von Franckenau’s essay, De ovis paschalibus (‘About Easter eggs’). However links between hares and rabbits and Easter go back earlier in central Europe. Hares were associated with fertility and with the Virgin Mary, and sometimes appear in paintings of the Virgin and Christ Child, and also in illuminated manuscripts. Custom had it that the hare would bring a basket of brightly painted eggs for all the children who had been good, and these would be hidden around the house and garden for the children to find.

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