Christian Meaning of Easter Egg Hunt

by John Briggs

Many Easter traditions, including the name itself and the symbolic use of eggs and rabbits, have pagan origins, but the Easter egg hunt, egg rolling and other holiday attributes are purely Christian additions. Many of the traditions followed today had their beginnings in the Middle Ages.

Pagan Roots

The egg has long been used in fertility rites by cultures as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians

Debates rage over whether the English word "Easter" evolved from the Celtic goddess Eostre, the Greek goddess Astarte, or the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, with Eostre, also spelled Eastre, being the leading candidate. What is known is that the egg has long been used in fertility rites by cultures as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians. Early Roman Christians considered the egg to be the seed of life and readily adopted it as a symbol of new life, identifying it with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Eggs are given on Easter Sunday as a direct representation of that resurrection and life beginning anew, as Christians believe it did for Jesus following his ascension into heaven. The symbolism also indicates that as the bird emerges from its shell, so did Jesus from his tomb.

Colored Egges

Coloring eggs existed in the pagan world, but was not a Christian tradition until the 13th century.

Coloring eggs existed in the pagan world, but was not a Christian tradition until the 13th century. Eggs were forbidden during Lent, and still are in Orthodox Christianity. Coloring them for Easter was a celebration of the end of Lent. The traditional Easter egg color red is said to represent the blood of Jesus. One story relates that the color red comes from a meeting Mary Magdalene had with a Roman emperor. Preaching to him that Christ had risen from the dead, the emperor responded, "Jesus is as alive as this egg is red." The egg immediately turned red.

Other Stories

Another egg coloring story involves Mary Magdalene carrying a basket of eggs while on her way to anoint Jesus with oil.

Another egg coloring story involves Mary Magdalene carrying a basket of eggs while on her way to anoint Jesus with oil. After doing so, she pulled back the cover of the basket to see that the eggs were decorated in bold colors. A third story tells of the Virgin Mary offering eggs to the Roman soldiers so they would be kind to her son on the cross. When they refused, her tears fell on the eggs, dotting them in different colors.

Easter Games

Christians in southern Germany added the practice of hiding eggs in difficult to reach places, often putting obstacles before the hiding spots.

No one is exactly sure when the tradition of hiding eggs on Easter Sunday began, but there is a Medieval story told to children that rabbits, another fertility symbol, laid eggs in the grass. Christians in southern Germany added the practice of hiding eggs in difficult to reach places, often putting obstacles before the hiding spots. The obstacles represented the Stations of the Cross, or the trials of Jesus on his way to crucifixion. A favorite hiding place was among thorns, symbolizing the crown of thorns placed on Jesus' head. Egg rolling may have Egyptian roots, but many Christians interpret it as rolling the stone away from Christ's tomb.

References

About the Author

Over the course of a 15-year career, John Briggs has written for print and online clients. As a syndicated TV critic, his work appeared in some of the country's top dailies. He has a degree in political science from Temple University and took additional writing classes at NYU.

Photo Credits

  • flickr: zaui