Easter egg tradition surrounded in mystery

Published 12:50 am Sunday, March 2, 2008

Plastic grass, colored eggs and lace-trimmed dresses can already be spotted in stores throughout the Miss-Lou. Easter is on its way and when it arrives March 23 it will be the earliest Easter holiday since 1875.

For centuries the holiday has been observed by the Christian church as a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. For the non-churched, Easter can represent the abundant new life of Spring. Both seem to parallel each other very closely. Several traditions accompany the holiday, but Easter eggs seem to be part of the custom for both the sacred and secular.

But why the egg? Why do we paint them? And why does the Easter Bunny bring them to us? History offers a few clues, but exactly where the tradition originated hasn’t yet been nailed down.

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Some claim that eggs were originally pagan symbols of the Easter holiday. While there is no hard evidence of this, there was a pagan goddess named Eostre and an Easter festival may have been named after her. There is no mention however of eggs being involved with the pagan celebrations.

The church’s claim to eggs doesn’t stand on much sturdier ground. The Christian celebration of Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover, not only because of its symbolism but also because of its place on the calendar. A traditional Jewish custom is to dip a hard-boiled egg in salt water symbolizing new life and the Passover sacrifice. There is also the Christian tradition of eating eggs as a celebration of the end of Lent.

The church’s best explanation of the Easter egg goes back to the time of Christ. According to church legend, after Christ’s ascension, Mary Magdalene went to the emperor of Rome and greeted him by saying, “Christ is risen.” The emperor replied, “Christ has not risen no more than the egg is red,” pointing to an egg on his table. After the emperor said this, the egg is believed to have turned blood red, symbolizing the blood of Christ.

Along with the egg, the Easter rabbit is usually found this time of year and is a traditional symbol of fertility. According to folklore, the goddess Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had been frozen in winter by turning it into a rabbit. Since the rabbit had once been a bird, it could still lay eggs and from that legend the Easter Bunny was born. In the United States, the egg-laying rabbit originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. Dutch children were told stories of Osterhas, a hare who would bring gifts of colored eggs to good children.

The origin of coloring eggs is no more certain than the origin of the Easter Bunny laying them. Some traditions call for eggs to be colored red to symbolize the blood of Christ. Other traditions specify green to represent new life.

Pagan or Christian — the egg is synonymous with the holiday. Come Easter, it won’t be hard to find children happily poking through the grass looking for the colorful, hidden eggs. And for most, that in itself is enough.

The Rev. David O’Conner said St. Mary Basilica will have an Easter egg hunt this year, but he admitted it may be hard for the children to connect Easter eggs with Christ.

“Easter eggs are not exactly part of church ritual, but are part of the ritual of church people,” he said. “The egg hunt is a way to involve young people and young families in the church. Most who come are young families who may be new to town and are looking for a church.”

“I’m not so sure the kids relate Christ to it,” he said. “But it’s a great way for people to get to know each other and the church.”

— Information from www.wikipedia.com.