Unpacking Easter egg traditions
Thu, 04/13/2017 - 2:54pm admin
By Ray Dale / Public Services Librarian
Once again, we are patting ourselves on the back at the Big Horn County Library and marveling at our own decorative skills. This month, when you walk into the library and look to your left, you will see MacGregor the bunny reading a book. Along with MacGregor, there are decorated eggs, butterflies and other items relating to spring and Easter. Angie, our children’s librarian, took some blank egg pictures home for her kids to color and you will find those on display.
As a kid, I never questioned why we decorate eggs at Easter. It was just a fun activity, then we got candy. As I got older, though, I began to wonder just how a decorated egg in any way related to a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ during the Jewish holiday of Passover. So I did a little research. As is usually the case, various possible explanations exist, but nobody knows for sure how the tradition of decorating came about.
Many explanations revolve around springtime pagan celebrations. The egg, in many cultures, has long been a symbol of fertility and birth, so it featured prominently in many festivities that took place in spring, the season of such things.
Decorating eggs may have come about in the 13th century when it was forbidden by the Catholic Church to eat them during Lent. At the end of the Lenten season, people would decorate eggs to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting, then eat them in celebration.
The name “Easter” may have come from another pagan holiday celebrating Eostre, the Germanic goddess of fertility. As more and more Western Europeans converted to Christianity, the old pagan holidays were simply replaced by Christian ones. As this happened gradually over time, some aspects of the old pagan celebrations remained. In this case, the name “Eostre” became “Easter”. It was said the goddess consorted with a hare, so it may also be the origin of the Easter bunny.
Whatever its origins, Easter, for Christians, is a very solemn and holy day. It is also a time for families to spend time together. My favorite memories of Easter are coloring eggs with my kids, and watching them participate in the Easter egg hunt at church.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Easter holiday, come to the Library and research for yourself.
While there, be sure to check out those decorations.