The oldest tradition is to use dyed or painted chicken eggs, but a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with confectionery such as jelly beans. These eggs are often hidden, allegedly by the Easter Bunny, for children to find on Easter morning. Otherwise, they are generally put in a basket filled with real or artificial straw to resemble a bird’s nest.
Origin and folklore
The egg is widely used as a symbol of the start of new life, just as new life emerges from an egg when the chick hatches out.
The ancient Zoroastrians painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration, which falls on the Spring equinox. The Nawrooz tradition has existed for at least 2,500 years. The sculptures on the walls of Persepolis show people carrying eggs for Nowrooz to the king.
At the Jewish Passover Seder, hard-boiled eggs called Beitzah dipped in salt water symbolizes the Qorban Chagigah or Hashlamim, the festival peace-offerings sacrificed at the Temple in Jerusalem to be eaten on Erev Pesach.
There are good grounds for the association between hares (later termed Easter bunnies) and eggs, through folklore confusion between hares’ forms (where they raise their young) and plovers‘ nests. The mention of eggs left for children in connection with the Germanic goddessOstara in the supposed Old High German lullaby is considered a literary forgery.
Christian symbols and practice
In the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, Easter eggs are dyed red to represent the blood of Christ, shed on the Cross, and the hard shell of the egg symbolized the sealed Tomb of Christ—the cracking of which symbolized his resurrection from the dead. Easter eggs are blessed by the priest at the end of the Paschal Vigil, and distributed to the faithful. Each household also brings an Easter basket to church, filled not only with Easter eggs but also with other Paschal foods such as paskha, kulich or Easter breads, and these are blessed by the priest as well.
During Paschaltide, in some traditions the Paschal greeting with the Easter egg is even extended to the deceased. On either the second Monday or Tuesday of Pascha, after a memorial servicepeople bring blessed eggs to the cemetery and bring the joyous paschal greeting, “Christ has risen”, to their beloved departed (see Radonitza).