Eggs symbolize birth and fertility in many cultures. Ancient Egyptians and the Persians colored eggs to give as gifts during their spring festival.
The legends of ancient Egypt connect the hare, which comes out at night to feed, with the moon. Rabbits have remained fertility symbols in other, later cultures.
According to Anglo-Saxon myth Ostara, wanting to delight some children one day, turned her pet bird into a rabbit. The rabbit proceeded to lay brightly colored eggs, which Ostara gave to the children.
Easter Egg Hunts
In ancient Europe, eggs of different colors were taken from the nests of various birds and used to make talismans. The eggs were often ritually eaten. The search through the woods for eggs gradually evolved into the Easter egg hunt, while painted eggs eventually replaced wild birds' eggs. Easter baskets were probably originally intended to resemble birds' nests.
In Medieval Europe, eggs were forbidden during Lent. Therefore they were a prized Easter gift for children and servants.
Eggs were painted bright colors to resemble the sun and springtime. Often, the colors and patterns had romantic symbolism, and lovers exchanged eggs as they send Valentine's Day cards today.
Orthodox Christians in the Middle East and in Greece, painted eggs bright red to resemble the blood of Christ. Hollow eggs (created by piercing the shell with a needle and blowing out the contents) were decorated with pictures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other religious figures in Armenia.
Germans gave green eggs as gifts on Holy Thursday. They also hung hollow eggs on trees. Austrians placed tiny plants around the egg and then boiled them. When the plants were removed, white patterns were created.
The most elaborate Easter egg traditions appear to have emerged in Eastern Europe. In Poland and Ukraine, eggs were often painted silver and gold. Pysanky (to design or write) eggs were created by carefully applying wax in patterns to an egg. The egg was then dyed, wax would be reapplied in spots to preserve that color, and the egg was boiled again in other shades. The result was a multi-color stripped or patterned egg.
Cards and Chocolate
Easter cards arrived in Victorian England, when a stationer added a greeting to a drawing of a rabbit. The cards proved popular.
The Germans probably began making chocolate bunnies and eggs. Immigrants took the custom to Pennsylvania. As Easter celebrations became more common after the Civil War, the custom of chocolate eggs took hold.
After their baptisms, early Christians wore white robes all through Easter week to indicate their new lives. Those had already been baptized wore new clothes instead to symbolize their sharing a new life with Christ.
In Medieval Europe, churchgoers would take a walk after Easter Mass, led by a crucifix of the Easter candle. Today these walks endure as Easter Parades. People show off their spring finery, including lovely bonnets decorated for spring.