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Easter egss and traditions: This is where they came from




Easter Sunday is coming up, with parents hurriedly looking for the best egg hiding spots around their home.

But why are chocolate eggs even associated with this time of year and why do giant bunnies hand them out? We've explored the origins of various Easter traditions.

Why has this confectionary become linked to the Easter period?
Why has this confectionary become linked to the Easter period?

Easter has itself changed massively since it was first celebrated.

Initially, according to 8th-Century writer Bede, the month corresponding to April was called Ēosturmōnaþ or 'The month of Ēostre'.

Ēostre was a Germanic goddess, for whom feasts were held during April by early Anglo-Saxon pagans from around the 5th Century AD.

Ēostre, depicted here by Johannes Gehrts, was a Germanic goddess also worshipped by Anglo-saxon Pagans
Ēostre, depicted here by Johannes Gehrts, was a Germanic goddess also worshipped by Anglo-saxon Pagans

She was seen as a goddess of sunlight and fertility - still-pertinent themes as the height of spring approaches.

Once Christianity came to the British Isles, the holiday became the Paschal month - a term still used in Latin and Greek Languages.

The word Pascha shows connections with the Jewish festival of Passover, and is the basis for the period known as the 'Passion of Jesus'.

The meaning of this latter phrase changes between individuals to mean any time between Jesus' entry into Jerusalem to his resurrection - events which are believed to have occurred between 30 and 33AD.

Some modern-day traditions are rooted in these religious origins of Easter, while others are much more contemporary.

Easter eggs

Perhaps the best known tradition is giving and receiving chocolate eggs, but they weren't originally made of chocolate.

There are a number of different hypotheses as to why eggs became a symbol of Easter.

The pagan festivals related to Ēostre, a fertility goddess, which naturally corresponds with eggs and birth.

Alternatively, it's believed by some that Mary Magdelene discussed with Caesar the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Pointing to an egg, the emperor said the chance of him coming back to life was the same as the egg could turn red - whereupon it did.

Easter egg hunts are probably the most popular and observed tradition of the Easter period
Easter egg hunts are probably the most popular and observed tradition of the Easter period

Eggs have long been associated with various religions' Easter celebration, with the food being part of the Passover Seder in the Jewish faith.

The act of decorating eggs can be traced back to around 5,000 years ago, where they were placed in Mesopatamian graves as a sign of life and rebirth.

This may have influenced early Christians in the area - which encompasses modern day Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and Turkey - to start the Easter tradition in the first couple of centuries AD.

Originally they were stained red to denote Jesus' blood, but historians have suggested they were coloured green and yellow as well.

Now eggs are frequently coloured in all shades, but some cultures maintain certain preferences. In the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, they are still symbolically dyed red, while Georgia, Belarus, Russia, Czechia and Israel dye eggs brown by boiling onions with the eggs.

Easter eggs are traditionally coloured using household food items, including red cabbage, onions,mustard seeds and beetroot (33133322)
Easter eggs are traditionally coloured using household food items, including red cabbage, onions,mustard seeds and beetroot (33133322)

In 1873 J S Fry and Son's created the first chocolate Easter egg in Britain, and Cadbury followed this up two years later with the first pure cocoa butter concoction that could be poured into moulds for the occasion.

Nowadays, more than 80 million Easter eggs are sold each year across the UK.

However extravagant your Easter eggs may be, they'll probably not be as extravagant as the ones Brighton confectioner Choccywoccydoodah sold in 2016. The trio of huge eggs, each highly decorated with elaborate carved unicorns, cost £25,000.

Despite this, the most expensive eggs given as annual Easter presents were designed by master jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé from 1885 to 1917.

Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II bought the fragile and exquisitely-crafted creations each Easter for their wives and mothers.

The Imperial Coronation Fabergé egg is perhaps his best known work for the Russian Tsars. Picture: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta
The Imperial Coronation Fabergé egg is perhaps his best known work for the Russian Tsars. Picture: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta

A collection of nine Fabergé eggs, including arguably the most famous example 'The Imperial Coronation', were sold to collector Viktor Vekselberg in 2004.

The set are believed to have cost him just over $100 million.

Hot cross buns

There are many theories as to how the humble hot cross bun came to be everyone's favourite seasonal baked treat.

Hot cross buns, like these ones made in Wingham, have been an Easter staple for centuries (33134434)
Hot cross buns, like these ones made in Wingham, have been an Easter staple for centuries (33134434)

Historical records show cakes may have been marked with a cross in 6th Century AD Greece, while others have pointed to Brother Thomas Rodcliffe, a 14th Century monk at St Albans Abbey.

Using a recipe similar to modern day hot cross buns, he distributed his creations to the poor on Good Friday.

Interestingly, the ingredients used in the buns are just as symbolic as the eponymous design.

The spices allegedly represent the herbs used in embalming Jesus' body, while the currants demonstrate that Lent is over so Christians can eat richer and more special foods again.

The sanctified association between hot cross buns and Easter was once legally enforced. During Queen Elizabeth I's reign, it was decreed that they shouldn't be sold at any time except for burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas.

Hot cross buns are usually toasted nowadays for the perfect April snack,. Picture: Bob Peters (33147364)
Hot cross buns are usually toasted nowadays for the perfect April snack,. Picture: Bob Peters (33147364)

Anyone breaking this rule would have to forfeit the prohibited food to the poor.

Hot cross bun sellers were often the only people working on Good Friday in more pious times, when all other shops were closed.

In addition to this, a long-held popular belief was that if you hang a fresh-baked bun from your rafters on Good Friday, it will remain fresh and mold-free throughout the year.

If anyone wants to give that a try, feel free to write in next year with the results!

The Easter Bunny spends Easter busily hiding eggs for children - and adults - to find
The Easter Bunny spends Easter busily hiding eggs for children - and adults - to find

Easter Bunny

Up there with Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, the Easter bunny is a favourite of children and adults alike.

Just like Santa Claus, the spring-stepped creature originally judged children on whether they had been good or bad in the run-up to the Easter period - giving gifts only to the good children.

The idea of a gift-giving Easter bunny dates back to the German Lutherans of 1500s however it was initially a hare that distributed presents.

Hares were widely believed by scholars such as Pliny and Plutarch to be hermaphroditic, and the ability to reproduce without a loss of virginity led to an association with Jesus' mother Mary.

Hares are still seen as the Easter animal in northwestern Europe, but most other cultures recognise the Easter Bunny
Hares are still seen as the Easter animal in northwestern Europe, but most other cultures recognise the Easter Bunny

This led to the hare becoming a popular sight on churches' stained-glass windows.

The concept of hiding Easter eggs is relatively modern as children used to make nests in their bonnets or caps, which they'd leave by the front door for eggs to be placed in.

Elsewhere around the world, rabbits have been substituted for other animals.

Australia in particular sees rabbits as an invasive species and so, in 1968, turned instead to the endangered marsupial called the bilby.

While chocolate bilbys had been sold since the 1930s in some shape or form, the '60s marked a turning point in its popularity as a seasonal symbol.

Chocolate bilbys were incredibly popular across Australia for decades, but their appeal has waned in recent years. Picture: Nicole Kearney
Chocolate bilbys were incredibly popular across Australia for decades, but their appeal has waned in recent years. Picture: Nicole Kearney

Groups including the 'Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia' endorsed the replacement of the Easter Bunny with the shrew-like bilby, and it has now become a widespread substitute.

Some money from the sale of chocolate bilbys goes towards their conservation, and one producer - Cadbury - donated $30,000 in the three years prior to 2018.

Unfortunately, a dramatic decline in popularity has seen the creatures' chocolate likenesses removed from many supermarket shelves in the country.


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