Decorating Eggs

Decorated egg shells have been found at archeological digs as far back as the Neanderthals some 60,000 years ago. The practice has been found in ancient Egypt as well as in many other places around the world. Since the Neanderthals didn’t leave any written materials, we cannot know for certain what their eggs were for. Archeologists believe they were used to store things and note that not only did different eggs have different decorations, but also that the intricacies of the design changed over time. Neat!

Ornately decorated ostrich eggs, using materials like lapis lazuli, are found in Iraq dating about 5,000 years ago.

4,000 years ago, in ancient Egypt, decorated eggs were adorned with gold and silver and placed in tombs. They were also used as household storage items.

Decorated eggs as part of early Christian practices may have started in Mesopotamia.

In Slavic cultures such as Croatia, Ukraine and Poland, egg decorating traditions, including pysanka, started in pre-Christian times and were rolled into Christian celebrations. The method is similar to batik. Wax is used to block some portions of the egg from receiving dye and later removed. Some of the colors and symbols used are:

triangles symbolizing water, earth, air and later the holy trinity  

the Grand Goddess, a matriarchal symbol representing birth and renewal             

circles symbolize the cycles or the earth, seasons, and universe 

swastika symbolizes happiness and good luck     

dots represent stars or things without a beginning and end          

leaves and branches symbolize strength and growth       

butterflies symbolize the fun of childhood            

birds symbolize spring   

white represents new life, purity and light

yellow represents celestial moon and stars

red represents life-giving blood, love and joy, and the hope of marriage.

green represents new vegetation in the spring and renewal

blue symbolizes the sky, and good health

brown represents the richness of the soil

black symbolizes the world of the afterlife in a positive light

In Poland, similar traditions of decorating include treated wax pisanki (like batik), gluing shiny paper or fabric onto eggs (like Mod Podge) or etching an already dyed egg to reveal the white shell below.

In Iran, Western and Central Asia and other parts of the world, a New Year holiday called NowRuz is celebrated on the Vernal Equinox. Originating in Zoroastrian, it is now more or less a secular holiday. (Quick note, Zoroastrian shares the myth of the virgin birth of a savior(s) who is the son of god bringing judgment, resurrection of the dead and eternal life). Among other traditions, many families include decorated eggs as a symbol of fertility and new life.

In Egypt, Sham Ennessim celebrates the beginning of spring with, among other things, colored eggs. This holiday is the evolution of Shemu, the 1st-century celebration of spring.

In some regions, red is a common color for eggs in Christianity. Some say it symbolizes the blood of Jesus. There are several stories around the resurrection of Jesus where eggs turn red although none are referenced in the Bible.

Some of the most famous, slightly more contemporary decorated eggs, are Fabergé eggs. In 1885, Tsar Alexander III commissioned an egg as a gift for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna. Intended as an Easter, this may also have doubled as a gift to celebrate 20 years since their engagement. This was the first is a series of 54 jeweled eggs made for the Russian Imperial family. Each one had a hidden surprise mechanism such as something hidden inside or a pop-up surprise. (To put this into historical perspective, the children of this marriage would result in Nicholas II, the Russian Revolution resulting in his abdication and later murder. Alexander and Maria’s grand-daughter is the famous Anastasia.)

Decorated eggs were also part of Spring celebrations in Germany and it is likely that these are the traditions that made their way to North America.

the Grand Goddess, a matriarchal symbol representing birth and renewal             

circles symbolize the cycles or the earth, seasons, and universe 

swastika symbolizes happiness and good luck     

dots represent stars or things without a beginning and end          

leaves and branches symbolize strength and growth       

butterflies symbolize the fun of childhood            

birds symbolize spring   

white represents new life, purity and light

yellow represents celestial moon and stars

red represents life-giving blood, love and joy, and the hope of marriage.

green represents new vegetation in the spring and renewal

blue symbolizes the sky, and good health

brown represents the richness of the soil

black symbolizes the world of the afterlife in a positive light

What Does Easter Celebrate?

What is Easter? blog series exploring the history and origins odfspring traditions What Does Easter Celebrate?

In the Christian religions, Easter is the celebration of Jesus coming back to life (called the resurrection) three days after being crucified by the Romans and buried in a tomb. Easter is not celebrated by all Christians. Some Christian groups that separated during the protestant reformation do not celebrate Easter and consider it, among other things, pagan. Other Abrahamic religions, such as Muslim, Bahá’í, and Judaism believe Jesus was a prophet.

For Christians who do celebrate, there is a lead up period called Lent when it is common to give up something, chocolate or alcohol are common today, as well as not eating meat on Fridays. In parts of the world, a weekly communal meal of fish is served, commonly called Friday Fish Fry. Sometimes, it is hosted by a church as a fundraiser and it is often a featured dinner special at restaurants.

In the past, a vegan diet (no meat or animal products such as eggs or honey) was the norm for some groups during Lent. Lent has subsections of time and days such as Palm Sunday (Jesus returns to Jerusalem and people lay down palm leaves for his donkey to walk on.) Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday (the Last Supper), Good Friday (crucifixion day), Holy Saturday (the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection)

Much like Christmas, the date of the Easter celebration took some time to be established. Even today, eastern Orthodox Easter is not celebrated on the same day as the Catholic celebration. The date is currently determined based on an ecclesiastical moon called the pascal moon. Pascal comes from the word Passover.  To be clear, this is not a lunar-based event, rather a roundabout date in the Christian calendar that is intended to be the Sunday following the Spring Equinox.

Like Christmas, Easter has also seen some religious syncretism (synk-re-tizm), that is, different beliefs blending and reshaping over time and influence.

Looking back through history, the Vernal Equinox and beginning of Spring was widely celebrated in many cultures. A time of renewal, celebrating the return of fresh foods, and new life. Return of birds (baking bread in the shape of a bird and throwing it into the air.)

In Slavic countries, Dazhboh was a deity of the sun. Birds were seen as the god’s special creations and getting the eggs laid by the birds was intended to bring the egg holder closer to their god.

In Egypt, Sham Ennessim, a contemporary holiday, celebrates the beginning of spring with, among other things, colored eggs. This holiday is the evolution of Shemu, the 1st-century celebration of spring.

In Iran, Western and Central Asia and other parts of the world, a New Year holiday called NowRuz is celebrated on the Vernal Equinox. Originating in Zoroastrian, it is now more or less a secular holiday. (Quick note, Zoroastrian shares the myth of the virgin birth of a savior(s) who is the son of god bringing judgment, resurrection of the dead and eternal life). Among other traditions, many families include decorated eggs as a symbol of fertility and new life.

In China, Start of Spring, also known as Chinese New Year, has been celebrated for almost 4000 years. Also based on a lunar calendar, Chinese New Year also incorporates the zodiac. You may be familiar with “Year of the Pig” and red decorations. This celebration also includes new clothing, special foods and gifts of money. The history of the holiday revolves around a mythical creature who would ravage a village and eat the villagers until a hero stepped up and scared the creature away with the color red and fireworks.

While we don’t have any evidence that the spring holidays coalesced into the Easter we see today, the celebration of Spring has a long history throughout the world.

Next, we will learn about egg decorating…