Why do we have chocolate eggs at Easter and hide hard boiled eggs for children to find? What’s a bunny got to do with Easter?

There is some evidence to show that Easter eggs originated from Medieval Europe and Christians may not have actually been the ones to start the tradition of giving eggs – a symbol of new life, fertility and rebirth in many cultures. Some claim that the word Easter derives from Eostre, a pagan goddess of spring and fertility.

According to folklore, Eostre found a bird dying from the cold and turned it into a rabbit so its fur would keep it warm – but that rabbit still laid eggs like a bird. In one version of this story the rabbit decorates the eggs as a present for Eostre to show love and gratitude. Throughout history people across the world have given each other eggs at spring festivals to mark the seasons. Early Christians in Mesopotamia dyed eggs in the period after Easter. The practice was adopted by the Orthodox Churches and from there it spread into Western Europe. Eggs represent new life and rebirth and it’s thought that this ancient custom was absorbed into Easter celebrations.

Easter is a serious religious festival for Christians, but children have been instrumental in making it fun for themselves.  Every Easter many children take part in Easter egg hunts. For some it is a family game, but sometimes a more public event in parks and churches. The custom of the Easter egg hunt, however, comes from Germany. Some suggest that its origins date back to the late 16th century when the Protestant reformer Martin Luther organised egg hunts for his congregation. The men would hide the eggs for women and children to find.  This was meant to relate to the story of the resurrection in which the empty tomb was discovered by women. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert continued this German tradition and popularised it in Britain.

Chocolate eggs first appeared in France and Germany in the early 19th century, but here in the UK it was Fry’s who produced the first chocolate Easter egg in 1873. Easter eggs and the egg hunt became more popular in mainstream England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as society began to change. Family life became more of a priority for the expanding Victorian middle classes and they had more disposable income. The Victorians were also fascinated by old traditions. As a result Easter moved away from being a primarily religious and communal celebration and became more centred on family, home and the pleasures of children.

© The Claydons Parish Magazine

April 2020