The Symbols and Story of Easter Eggs, Chocolate Rabbits and Hares

Easter folklore stems from the earliest days of the Christian church. But the specific day of the festival has been contentious and somewhat provocative from its very foundation.  Just the foundations of the name of the most significant event in the Christian calendar is uncertain. However,  there is agreement on the fact that, like several other Christian holidays, most Easter customs can be traced back to pre-Christian, pagan rites and celebrations related to the arrival of Spring. It is not therefore  accidental that Easter features such symbols of fertility as the egg and the rabbit, aka the Easter bunny (der Osterhase)and the hare.

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For Christians the egg is a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection, for when they are cracked open they represent the empty tomb. It is indefinite when eggs were first used as symbols at festival occasions but it was way before Jesus’ time. Eggs were permanently thought to be distinctive for although they do not seem alive, they have life within them expressly at springtime when chicks hatch out.

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The symbols of Easter might appear to conflict with the Christian religious holiday but are in point remnants of the holiday’s long historical and cultural tradition. All major branches of Christianity observe Easter. For Christians, at Easter we celebrate and commemorate the central event of the Christian faith, Christ’s resurrection, three days after his death from crucifixion.   It occurs the Sunday after Good Friday. The Resurrection is the centerpiece according to the Apostle, Paul who reflected, that if Jesus Christ had not been resurrected then the Christian faith was worthless and futile (1 Cor. 15:14-170. So, without Easter there is no Christianity.

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All the Christian mobile feasts and the entire liturgical year of worship is arranged around Easter, which is preceded by Lent, the 40 day period of fasting and repentance culminating in Holy Week, and followed by a 50 day Easter Season stretching out from Easter to Pentecost. There are so many symbols and stories around the world concerning eggs. In Egyptian lore, the phoenix burns its nest to be reborn later from the egg that is left, and in Hindu scriptures recount that the world developed from an egg. Orthodox Christians and many cultures continue to dye Easter eggs, often decorating them with flowers.

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Why we give eggs at Easter?

In the 17th and 18th centuries manufacturers established egg-shaped toys, which were given to children at Easter. Victorians devised cardboard, satin covered eggs lavishly filled with Easter souvenirs and chocolates. The definitive egg-shaped Easter gifts must have been the magnificent jewel encrusted inventions of Carl Fabergé crafted during the 19th century for the Russian Czar and Czarina, nowadays treasured museum pieces. Brightly coloured eggs were decorated to represent the bright and wonderful colours of spring. The practice of decorating eggs became even more well-known by Edward I of England who requested 450 eggs to be gold-leafed and coloured for Easter gifts in 1290.

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The custom of presenting eggs at Easter celebrates new life. We remember that Jesus, after dying on the cross, rose again from the dead, and through his resurrection, he defeated death and sin and offers us the promise of eternal life if we follow his teachings. But in many countries and civilizations worldwide, eggs symbolize fertility, new life and rebirth. The closed shell can symbolize also his tomb, but when cracked illustrates his resurrection. The earliest eggs were bird eggs, painted in bright colours to offer further meaning as a gift. Indeed we still paint bird eggs today, but usually only chicken eggs.

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Our sisters know the story well as it stems from Germany. The name Easter was first appropriated by the Christian calendar. But it was first the pagan festival Ostara, which was celebrated in the vernal equinox, circa March 21 in the northern hemisphere. It was named for the pagan goddess of Spring. The early Anglo-Saxon legend tells how the Saxon goddess Eostre found a wounded bird and transformed it into a hare so it might survive the Winter. The hare found it could lay eggs, so it decorated these each Spring and left them as offerings to the goddess. Today, Easter eggs are painted decorated and hidden for children to find.

The bunny as a symbol for Easter is laid out in writings in 16th century Germany. The first edible Easter bunnies, made of pastry and sugar, were also produced in Germany in the early 1800s. Around that time, children would make nests of grass and settled them in their parents’ Spring gardens for the Easter Bunny to fill during the night with brightly decorated eggs.

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Easter in German-Speaking Europe

The three major German-speaking countries (Austria, Germany and Switzerland) are primarily Christian and Easter is a significant time for both Catholics and Protestants in these German-speaking lands. The Germanic observance of Easter (Ostern in German) is very much akin to that in most of the Christian world, showcasing the same fertility and spring-related icons, such as eggs, bunnies, flowers and numerous comparable Easter customs. The art of decorating hollowed-out eggs (ausgeblasene Eier) for Easter is an Austrian and German convention.

Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants transported the Easter bunny to America in the 1700s. Their children, who used their hats or bonnets to create their nests, supposed that if they were good, the ‘Oschter Haws’ (more accurately Easter Hare) would cram their upturned hats with brightly colored eggs.

Easter egg hunts persist today in German towns and cities just as it is on the White House lawn in Washington, D.C. Children compete to find the Bunny’s colorful eggs across the world every year.

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Chocolate Easter eggs were initially crafted in Europe in the early 19th century, with France and Germany taking the lead in this novel and inventive confectionery. Some early eggs were solid, as the method for mass-producing moulded chocolate had not been invented. The manufacture of the first hollow chocolate eggs must have been meticulous, as the moulds were lined with chocolate one at a time. The first sweet eggs that were eaten were made from sugar or marzipan. Since then chocolate eggs have become popular and these are offered on Easter Sunday.