The egg is considered a magical symbol because it represents new life. For that reason eggs play a prominent role in the celebration of religious holidays. Cultures throughout the world believe eggs represent fertility, life, and rebirth — positive anticipation of the future. It’s no wonder people everywhere are inspired to decorate them during this holiday season. Let’s look at how pristine white eggs transitioned to the colorfully embellished eggs we see today.
For Jews around the world, the celebration of Passover would not be complete without eggs. The star of the ceremonial Seder is matzo — the flat bread baked quickly in the desert sun as families of newly freed Jews followed Moses to the promise of a homeland. Central to the Seder plate is a roasted egg — a symbol of hope for the new life of freedom from Egyptian bondage.
From a Christian perspective, the egg represents the resurrection of Jesus — the rising of life from the dead. The hard shell of the egg symbolizes the sealed Tomb. 500 years ago, the first Christians to adopt the custom of coloring Easter eggs were from Mesopotamia. They painted their eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ. The custom of painting eggs caught on. Before long a rainbow of colors became commonplace. Now we see distinctive and sophisticated egg decorating techniques with beautiful results.
In Persia, eggs have been painted for thousands of years as part of the spring celebration of Nowruz – the Zoroastrian New Year. During Nowruz the Haft Sin table is set with 7 symbols of spring including exquisitely decorated eggs. When a chicken lays an egg, the egg appears to be a completed object. In truth the egg is a preparation for the living being who will emerge from it. In Iran, the tradition is for mothers to eat one cooked egg for each child she has.
Ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hindus, Native Americans, and Chinese all believed the world began with an enormous egg. A Chinese folk tale says a deity named Pan Gu formed inside the egg, and in his effort to get out, cracked it into two halves. The upper portion became the sky and cosmos, and the lower half became the earth and sea. As Pan Gu grew bigger and more powerful, the gap between earth and sky increased, and soon they were separated forever.
Whatever your tradition, spring holidays represent the celebration of renewal. Even the earth comes to life after a bleak, cold winter. Eggs are a good representation of that rebirth, and decorating them is a way to acknowledge their importance.
Of course there are extremes to everything. In 1275, a notation in the household accounts of Edward I of England showed an expense of eighteen pence for 450 eggs to be gold-leafed and colored for Easter gifts. In 1885, Tsar Alexander presented the first Fabergé egg as an Easter gift to his wife, the Empress Marie of Russia. It was a small gold egg in an outside shell of platinum and enamel. Its current market value has risen to 28 million dollars. These exotic representations of eggs are exquisite, but my taste runs to simpler preferences.
Care to enjoy a chocolate egg with me? Yum!
Sources: Fabergéresearch.com, guardianlv.com, thoughtco.com, getty images