Monday, 1 April 2013

Easter Eggs

I hope you have all had a fantastic bank holiday weekend and Easter, despite the cold weather. It is common knowledge that Easter is a Christian celebration of Jesus's resurrection, but this holiday also has pagan origins. However, my question is, where did the tradition of chocolate eggs, rabbits, baby chicks, leg of lamb dinners, and lilies come from? In short, they are all symbols of rebirth and lamb is a traditional religious sacrifice.

Easter falls in the spring, the yearly time of renewal, when the earth renews itself after a long, cold winter. The word Easter is derived from the Norsemen's Eostur, Eastar, Ostara, and Ostar, and the pagan goddess Eostre, all of which involve the season of the growing sun and new birth. The Easter Bunny arose originally as a symbol of fertility, due to the rapid reproduction habits of the hare and rabbit.

The ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Hindus all believed the world began with an enormous egg, thus the egg as a symbol of new life has been around for thousands of years. Most cultures around the world use the egg as a symbol of new life and rebirth, especially due to it's curvature, meaning there is no beginning or end to an egg. Edward I of England brought 450 fold-leafed and coloured eggs for eighteen pence as Easter gifts.

The first book to mention Easter eggs by name was written five hundred years ago. Yet, a North African tribe that had become Christian hundreds of years before had a custom of colouring eggs at Easter. Long hard winters often meant little food, and a fresh egg for Easter was seen as a reward. Christians also used to abstain from eating meat during Lent, (although nowadays it is more often chocolate and other 'junk' food given up for Lent). Eating a leg of lamb and a chocolate egg on Easter was a Christian way of celebrating after the 40 days of abstinence.

A common European tradition is for children to go from house to house collecting Easter eggs, like trick-or-treating for Halloween. It is often referred to as peace-egging, coming from the old word for Easter, Pasch. Decorating small leaf-barren branches as Easter eggs is also a popular tradition in America since the 1990s.

Many old cultures also believed the egg to have great healing powers. However eggs play almost no role in Easter celebrations in Mexico, South America and Native American Indian cultures. Egg-rolling contests are held, which symbolise the rolling of stones away from Jesus's tomb. Nowadays Easter is not only a time of Christian celebration, but also universal celebration of spring, and has become a huge commercial success (just have a look at the hundreds of different types of Easter eggs on display in Tesco for evidence). Eating Easter eggs, spending time with the family and welcoming in Spring are all an important part of this bank holiday weekend, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.