Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Explaining Easter Eggs
HISTORY OF THE EASTER EGG
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SWIDE
The egg, as a symbol of Easter is one of Christianity’s traditions that is so clearly of pagan origin that the church has barely even attempted to assimilate it into it’s narrative, it simply accepts it as a powerful symbol of birth, rebirth, both physical and spiritual.
Apart from a couple of half-baked tales involving Mary Magdalene, who it was said, brought a snack of eggs to some women who were keeping vigil over Jesus’ tomb. When Mary saw the risen Christ, the eggs turned bright red. Another claims that Mary went to see the Emperor of Rome to spread the gospel and greeted him with ‘Christ is risen’, to which the Emperor replied ‘HE is no more risen than the eggs on that table are red’, whereupon the eggs turned bright red.
It’s worth noting though that Mary Magdalene, the ’13th apostle’, the symbol of female sexuality and one closely associated with Jesus and who has over time been discreetly airbrushed from the New testament, features in both versions. In many ways Mary is the most pagan of all Christian characters, embodying the old goddess and female deities of the religions that preceded Christianity.
The egg, however, doesn’t come from any one tradition, but from many. Firstly as Easter is a moveable feast, it is one that is attached to the Spring Equinox and the lunar cycle, and it very much has its roots in pagan nature worship. For a start around the star of Lent, the period of 40 days’ fasting before Easter, chickens will naturally stop laying at that time as the would normally be incubating their laid eggs, or caring for their newly hatched chicks. It is the birds’ natural cycle that provides a scarcity of eggs in the run up to Easter. Which explains why people binge on eggs on the ‘Shrove Tuesday’ or ‘Martedì Grasso’ (fat Tuesday).
Easter borrowed the egg though, not just from one culture or tradition but from many, probably too many to mention. Decorated ostrich eggs dating to some 60,000 years ago have been discovered in Africa, and gold and silver representations of ostrich eggs were placed in the graves of Sumerians and Egyptians over 5000 years ago, so the tradition of decorating eggs goes back a long time.
Bu the Easter egg as we know it comes from the early Christians of Mesopotamia who stained eggs red in order to celebrate the blood shed for them by Jesus on his crucifixion. However it wasn’t until 1610, that the Christian Church officially adopted the custom when, Pope Paul V proclaimed the following prayer: ”Bless, O Lord! we beseech thee, this thy creature of eggs, that it may become a wholesome sustenance to thy faithful servants, eating it in thankfulness to thee on account of the resurrection of the Lord.”
The egg is a powerful symbol in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches when they are also dyed red as symbol of blood sacrifice, it also features in the folk traditions of Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, and other Central European countries. The egg is painted with brilliant colours and is given as a gift, as the gift of life. The best-known of these are the Ukrainian pysanka and the Polish pisanka, which inspired the famed Faberge Eggs for the Russian Imperial Court.
In Germany and in Great Britain the traditional games involving eggs; the ‘egg hunt’ and ‘egg rolling’ were exported to the New World, where they remain strong today. In Germany today, you can still see trees decorated with sometimes hundreds of decorated eggs and households in Scandinavia and Germany create a table decoration of painted eggs hanging from branches.
In recent years, chocolate manufactures and confectioners spotted an opportunity and started making chocolate eggs, or eggs stuffed with candy. Each year $14.5 billion are spent on Easter eggs and Easter-related products so it is a huge industry and won’t be going away any time soon. Whatever the egg represents to you, whether it has religious, spiritual or merely a gluttonous significance, the Easter egg is here to stay.