From hard-boiling to dyeing to hunting, have you ever wondered how eggs became such a big part of the Easter celebration? We turned to food historians to get the real answer.

By Karla Walsh
April 10, 2020
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Some things are better by the dozen: Donuts, red roses, and come spring, Easter eggs. Not only do we decorate colorful eggs every year, but we also play hide and seek with them and add them to our Easter dinner menus (Pro tip: try one of these easy ways to dye eggs that are still safe to eat so you can help cut down on food waste). But have you ever wondered how this food became part of our holiday tradition? We talked to culinary history experts to explain exactly why we celebrate Easter with eggs, when the custom started, and what history can tell us about our culture.

Credit: Carson Downing

Why Do We Celebrate Easter With Eggs?

“Easter, in particular, is a time when families come to the table to mark the advent of spring. Eggs represent new life and are a symbol of rebirth, so it makes sense that they would be associated with Christian Easter traditions,” says Elizabeth Hopwood, Ph.D., lecturer in English and acting director of the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities at Loyola University Chicago.

Eggs were discovered in tombs in the B.C. era. From then until the present day, many cultures (including the Greeks and Egyptians) have connected eggs with fertility and power. Some civilizations even gifted eggs to the dead as a symbol of revitalization and protection from evil. 

“An egg lays dormant and then awakes, much like winter into spring,” explains Beth Forrest, Ph.D., a food historian and professor of liberal arts and food studies at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. “And when chickens are exposed to more sunlight, they produce more eggs, making them symbolic while offering tangible evidence of these seasonal ideas.” 

During the first century A.D., Christians translated the originally-Pagan beliefs into a new Christian tradition to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus.

“Eggs were prohibited in medieval Catholicism during the Lenten fast, too, and eating them, especially for those who could not afford meat, marked the end of the fast,” Forrest says.

There was even a time when, like Shrove Tuesday, "Egg Saturday" was celebrated the last Saturday prior to Lent, Forrest adds. English children would go door-to-door asking for eggs, and if they were denied, they would throw plates, bowls, or other tableware at the house.

The History Behind Easter Egg Hunts

Easter’s food origins are found in Christianity, but national and political tales also help to explain why we play with eggs on Easter in America, according to Hopwood.

“The Easter egg hunt is thought to be a 16th-century Germanic practice where men hid eggs for their wives and children as a reminder when Mary Magdalene and other women found the tomb of Christ,” Forrest says. 

As far as the rabbit and egg connection, it likely dates back to one essay "De Ovis Paschalibus,” written by a German in the late 17th century. It stated that eggs were hidden by hares, further connecting Easter eggs and bunnies. 

Now that you’re well-versed in the reason why we celebrate Easter with eggs, make this holiday one for the history books by decorating and devouring those eggs

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