The ubiquity of the egg in springtime celebrations surpasses that of Easter baskets, bunnies, and bonnets combined. With its ancient and elaborate history, this ellipsoid holds its own in the story of spring.
A Technicolor History
The coloring of eggs for special occasions is a tradition that goes back before the time of the first Easter celebrations centuries ago. Dyes were made of vegetables, edible flowers, fruits, roots, even coffee and tea. Commercial dyes were made available as early as 1880 when an American drugstore owner by the name of William Townley invented Easter-egg dye tablets that tinted eggs “five cheerful colors.”
The art of painting eggs with beeswax and dye is a custom of many cultures in Europe and the Middle East. Ukraine has long been a hotspot for this art form, known in that country and beyond as pysanky, a Ukrainian word stemming from the verb pystay, meaning “to write.” These eggs are decorated with symbols of ancient pagan motifs and Christian elements. The variety among the eggs is endlessly intricate and lovely, with designs and dye recipes specific to regions, communities, and families.
A Cross-Cultural Tradition
As part of Nowruz—the ancient Iranian celebration of the spring equinox—painted eggs are a popular element of the feast table. These eggs, representing humans and fertility, are set out alongside other symbolic table decorations, including an apple representing the sun, a mirror representing the sky, and a goldfish representing animals.
In 1885, Czar Alexander III commissioned the work of Peter Carl Fabergé, a jeweler and goldsmith that the Czarina had become fond of, to create a lavishly decorated Easter egg as a present for his lovely wife. As she opened the egg, out tumbled gold and jewels. The Czarina was so pleased with the gift that the giving of these eggs as gifts became an Easter tradition for Russian royals and nobility.
Chocolate Easter Eggs
Much like the lavishly stuffed eggs of the Czar, hollow chocolate Easter eggs often come with little goodies inside. This tradition took off in the mid-1800s when the technique of tempering chocolate was discovered, allowing chocolate to be poured into molds and harden into firm, shiny vessels.
Italians have taken this tradition to new heights—up to 18 inches, that is. As the popularity of chocolate rose in the twentieth century, candy shops and chocolatiers try to outdo one another with their decorations and options of gifts for the giving.
Photo credit: BritainExplorer.com