Chocolate is everywhere at the moment. Just as turkey and mince pies have become a firm part of Christmas tradition, chocolate is the essential Easter treat. In recent years chocolate eggs have joined the painted ones in Easter baskets, the first ones being made by hand using tin moulds about 150 years ago. These chocolate eggs were huge glossy shells which were decorated with sugar flowers and pretty ribbons and were very expensive. At the beginning of the 20th century, mass produced eggs began to take over from the hand made ones.
Of all the symbols associated with Easter, the egg - the symbol of fertility and new life - is the most identifiable. The customs and traditions of using eggs have been associated with Easter for centuries. Eggs have been used to represent rebirth and new life for hundreds of years with many customs dating back to pagan traditions. In some cultures legend states that the Earth itself hatched from a giant egg.
In the past, eggs were forbidden food during Lent so Easter Sunday became the traditional time to start using them again. This led to many people giving eggs, usually decorated, to their friends and servants.
Originally Easter eggs were painted with bright colours to represent Spring and were used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts. After they were coloured and etched with various designs the eggs were exchanged by lovers and romantic admirers, much the same as Valentines. In medieval times, eggs were traditionally given at Easter to the servants. In Germany eggs were given to children along with other Easter gifts.
Different cultures have developed their own ways of decorating Easter eggs. Crimson eggs, to honour the blood of Christ, are exchanged in Greece. In parts of Germany and Austria green eggs are used on Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday). Slavic peoples decorate their eggs in special patterns of gold and silver
Austrian artists design patterns by fastening ferns and tiny plants around the eggs, which are then boiled. The plants are then removed revealing a striking white pattern. The Poles and Ukrainians decorate eggs with simple designs and colours. A number of eggs are made in the distinctive manner called pysanki (to design, to write)
Pysanki eggs are a masterpiece of skill and workmanship. Melted beeswax is applied to the fresh white egg. It is then dipped in successive baths of dye. After each dip wax is painted over the area where the preceding color is to remain. Eventually a complex pattern of lines and colors emerges into a work of art
In Germany and other countries the contents of eggs are removed by piercing the end of each egg with a needle and blowing the contents into a bowl. The hollow eggs are dried and hung from shrubs and trees during the Easter Week. The Armenians would decorate hollow eggs with pictures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other religious designs
Easter Egg Games
Eggs play an important part in Easter sports. The Romans celebrated the Easter season by running races on an oval track and giving eggs as prizes.
On Easter morning children search for the eggs that the Easter Bunny has hidden while they were asleep. Eggs are hidden throughout the house or garden and sometimes there will be a special prize for the child finding the most eggs.
Eggs are rolled downhill as a symbol of the stone being rolled away from the tomb where Jesus was laid. The rules of an Easter Egg Roll are to see who can roll an egg the greatest distance or can roll their egg without breaking it, usually down a grassy hillside or slope.
One of the most famous egg rolling traditions is held on the south lawn of the White House on Easter Monday. This dates back to 1878 when President Rutherford B Hayes allowed children to have access to the lawns. They brought their own baskets and eggs and enjoyed simple games, including the rolling of a hard-boiled decorated egg across the lawn. The President, First Lady and other celebrities traditionally greet the children, who receive collectible wooden eggs at the end of the day.