History of Easter Eggs
Spring is here and stores are decorated for Easter, offering pastel colored Easter items of every description. But where did Easter come from? Where did we get these traditions? Almost every culture has some celebration or festival for spring. Judaism has Passover or Pesach, Islam has Nowruz, Christianity has Easter. The ancient Romans celebrated spring and pagans, ancient and modern, have lots of spring festivals. These are the origin of many of our current traditions.
Where does the word Easter come from?
First, the name Easter is possibly derived from Ishtar, the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess of fertility or from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. Strangely, in many foreign languages, the name for the Easter holiday is “Passover” transliterated into the local dialect. For example, the Spanish is “Pascua de flores” or “Passover of flowers” to differentiate it from the Jewish Pascua, Russian is “пасхальный” (paskhal’nyy), and Icelandic is “páskar.” Christians celebrate Resurrection Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the grave after his crucifixion. But even church leaders have not agreed on how the date of Easter will be calculated. The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) said that Easter would be celebrated on the Sunday following the full moon, making it a moveable feast in our solar-based calendar. But in America, many people celebrate Easter whether they go to church or not.
What about those Easter eggs?
Eggs are an obvious symbol of fertility and thus, spring. Chicken eggs were often dyed; historically red in memory of Jesus blood, or pastel colors for spring. Sometimes these were hard boiled, sometimes they were emptied of their contents (possibly symbolizing the empty tomb). It is said that the pilgrims were discouraged not to have special food to celebrate Easter after the long winter, so they boiled eggs and painted them for the children. In Poland, Czech Republic and other Slavic countries, colorfully painted wooden eggs are sold for decorations. These have intricate patterns and are lovely, so it’s good that they last. They are a sort of poor man’s Fabergé egg. Modern families often substitute plastic eggs with goodies inside or chocolate eggs. An Easter basket is perfect to hold the eggs from an Easter egg hunt.
The first Easter egg hunt
Dolly Madison, wife of the fourth president, may have been the first to propose an egg rolling contest from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other end. After her time, egg rolling on the Monday after Easter took place on the grounds of the Capitol. The children of Washington, D.C. look forward to this event and turn out in large numbers to participate. Egg rolling has changed with the times, sometimes substituting egg tossing and catching, egg croquet or other egg events. The event has been augmented by the Marine Band, other organized games, a circus, balloons, antique cars, and more, from year to year. In 1974 the White House kitchen spoons were brought out for an egg race event. The president and his family and pets attend this event which is the largest public event held at the White House each year. Of course, the Easter Bunny makes an appearance, too.
Happy Easter to our readers! What are your most treasured Easter traditions? Please share in the comments!