Eggs are a symbol of rebirth and new life. Eggs have become associated with Easter, perhaps because of this symbolism of resurrection and rebirth, or because Easter coincides with Spring– the rebirth of the land and return of fertility.
Early Christians in 4th century Mesopotamia were the first known to associate eggs with Easter, and the practice of dying eggs red as a symbol of the blood of Jesus on the cross is said to have started there. But decorating eggs is an even more ancient practice. The oldest known decorated egg, a 60,000 year old engraved ostrich egg, was found in Africa by archaeologists. It is thought to have been used as a flask for water. Decorated ostrich eggs have also been found in the graves of ancient Egyptians entombed over 5,000 years ago.
For Slavic and Germanic peoples, pre-Christian egg decorating for Spring or pagan rites was blended with– and then mostly superseded by– the Christian symbolism of Easter. Decorative motifs depicting ancient gods or goddesses made room for images of churches and crosses. And stories about the magic talismanic qualities of decorated eggs became stories about God’s power and grace.
Around the world, different cultures have very specific Easter egg customs: eggs are delivered by the Easter Bunny, or Osterhase (Easter Hare); dyed red with onion skins; decorated in “written” designs using a highly elaborate wax batik method; etched through the shell; and covered with beads. All these practices make a treasure of the humble chicken egg, imbuing it with magic and sacred symbolism of ancient gods, Spring, rebirth, resurrection, or simply with the ability to create enduring memories of family togetherness.