This morning I woke up to a lightening sky as the sun rose above the horizon a tiny bit earlier than it had the day before. Just another sign of Spring. March is the month of the spring equinox, when balance hits its peak with twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. Spring is the time for daffodils, newborns, and Easter eggs. Just like Spring is known to represent birth, death, and rebirth for a variety of religious and scientific reasons, the Easter egg is one of the symbols of this cycle that we see every year, but maybe don’t pay attention to. Did you know that eggs have symbolized rebirth for centuries?
Easter Egg Origins
Eggs are used and decorated to celebrate Spring all around the world. Interestingly, dying eggs does not find its origins in Christianity—in fact, anciently, Iranians celebrated their New Year by decorating eggs as a sign of fertility, rebirth, and the cycles of life. You guessed it—the Iranian New Year falls on the spring equinox. What better time to celebrate starting fresh and new than when the earth sheds its dry, cracked winter skin and blossoms anew? Some pagan cultures are believed to have similar traditions in this season of renewal, celebrating the return of the sun god and a replenishing of the plants and animals that nourish us all year long.
Most commonly known are the Spring traditions surrounding Christianity. To celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians around the world dye Easter eggs red to represent the blood of Christ, and participate in something called an Easter egg roll, which is a fun game that reminds players of the stone rolled away from the tomb after Christ broke the bands of death. Some groups, especially the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox groups, paint delicate and detailed scriptures and holy scenes on the rounded surfaces of the tiny eggs.
Eggs in Burial
Despite the delicate nature of eggs and egg shells, our earliest archeological evidence that eggs were used symbolically during burial rituals comes from as early as 50 B.C.E. At the burial site called Castellaccio Europarco, the site of a young child, archeologists found remains of a chicken egg, laid purposefully under the child’s left hand. Excavators supposed that the egg was a symbol of rebirth and new life, and was included in this child’s grave as a token of hope against the sadness of such a premature death. Another site at the Vatican Necropolis contained a similar scene—a baby, surrounded by eggshells, buried lovingly in a place of honor and promised rebirth through this potent spring symbol.
The egg, obviously, has had strong ties to life and death and rebirth since ancient times, and these ties have been strengthened as the Christian church has grown and flooded the world. A more modern use of the Easter egg uses a dormant egg to represent the tomb of Jesus after he was resurrected and no longer occupied the space. Just as life does not exist in an unfertilized egg, so was the tomb of Christ three days after his death. This Easter, I hope you observe the symbols all around you in a new way, considering that they represent death just as much as life!