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.
Pre-dating Christianity, eggs were always representative of new life in pagan religions and have long been associated with the celebration of spring.
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.
You can’t decorate Easter eggs without boiling them first, but did you know that there is a symbolism to the hardened shell? The shell in Christian and Orthodox cultures represents the sealed tomb that held Christ’s body. When cracked open, it mimics his resurrection.
During the Jewish holiday of Passover, roasted or hard-boiled eggs symbolize both fertility and the loss of the two Temples during the Seder. Christianity was derived from Judaism, so it is no surprised that Christians incorporated a part of this tradition during their Lenten time.
Easter eggs that are dyed red have a particular significance. It is theorized that red eggs represent Christ’s resurrection. In one story, Roman Emperor Tiberius replied to Mary Magdalene’s news of Christ’s resurrection with: “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.” He was referencing an egg that was on a nearby table, or possibly in Magdalene's hands. After declaring this, it was said that the egg turned red. Another Easter European Christian theory says that when Mary, Jesus’ mother, visited his body at the crucifixion, she brought with her a basket of eggs and his blood spilled on them, dyeing them a bright red.