There are certain holiday traditions that we take for granted. Without question, every year, we decorate a tree for Christmas and leave out cookies for Santa. We don’t wonder why we don masks and go door to door for Halloween. We certainly don’t cogitate over the reasons why we wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day. And when it comes to Easter, we don’t even think twice about dyeing eggs. It is simply part of our traditions, something families have done for centuries.
It is kind of bizarre, if you really think about it. You take so much care to perfectly hard boil an egg, arrange materials to decorate it, and let it hang out in your fridge until Easter morning without ever once questioning why you are doing it. Believe it or not, the Easter egg is much more than a blank canvas for creative decor.
The practice of dyeing Easter eggs dates back as far as the thirteenth century. The thing is, no one is completely sure of where and why this tradition started. While we do know that Christians adopted this practice and applied their own theological symbolism to it, its exact origin story is hazy. To help you better understand why you spend so much time every year decorating Easter eggs, we’ve rounded up a few facts and theories so you can piece together the history of this brightly colored holiday tradition.
An Ancient Symbol
Pre-dating Christianity, eggs were always representative of new life in pagan religions and have long been associated with the celebration of spring.
Begging for Eggs
Much like trick-or-treaters, children in sixteenth century Northern England and Scotland would go from door to door reciting rhymes in exchange for eggs, cheese, bacon, and other items to add to their families’ Easter meals. The practice was called “pace egging.” Eggs were also used as Easter offerings or payment, particularly by English peasants.