Today the decorated egg is a well-recognized Easter symbol. Many of us have spent Easter week boiling eggs to paint in colors from pastel to army green (the result of mixing all the colors together).

Some of us don’t really care about the hard-boiled egg itself, and with the current cost of eggs, we may be more judicious.

Many cultures have decorated eggs; eggs with scratched designs have been discovered that date back to the middle Stone Age. The tradition of egg decorating, originally as a celebration of spring, originated in pagan times, predating Christianity.

Easter was named as the greatest Feast Day in 325 AD during the Catholic Council of Nicaea. Easter’s connection with eggs is tied to the early Catholic Church rule that forbid eating eggs during the 40 days of Lent.

As a result, in the days coming up to Ash Wednesday, eggs were given out to children as treats. This used up any excess eggs before the fasting began.  

During Lent, families with chickens naturally accumulated a lot of eggs. They were boiled to preserve them until Easter. Early Christians often painted the eggs during Easter week as we do today. The decorations also encouraged eating the eggs, which had already been stored for weeks. In some cultures, cracking the hard-boiled eggs symbolized the rebirth of Christ.

Ukrainian egg decorating, called pysanky, is thought to predate Christianity. Pysanky means “to write,” which refers to the hand-drawn and painted designs on the eggs.

The artists, traditionally only women, use pencil to draw the intricate grid design directly on the egg. Each line is traced over with a light line of beeswax, and then layered with natural dyes in bright colors.

These eggs, with their geometric patterns and sometimes Christian symbols, are a popular image of Orthodox Easter. Pysanky eggs from Ukraine and Western Europe are among the most elaborate wax-resist designs found anywhere.

In the late 1700s, chocolate eggs appeared at court in France. Empty chicken eggshells were filled with molten chocolate for royal treats. In 1873, J.S. Fry & Sons of England introduced the first chocolate egg, but it was Cadbury, in 1875, who introduced the chocolate Easter egg.

Cadbury had created a new recipe for chocolate using pure cocoa butter and no starchy ingredients. It could be molded into smooth shapes. The recipe made Cadbury a leader in the chocolate industry. By 1893, Cadbury had 19 varieties of the chocolate egg. They still use the recipe today.

The most famous jeweled eggs are the celebrated Fabergé eggs commissioned for the Russian Imperial family between 1885 and 1916. The renowned Fabergé Jewelry House employed expert artisans in jewels, gold, porcelain, and diamonds.

The Fabergé House made 50 ornately adorned eggs for the royal family. Forty-three are known to exist today and are held by European museums and some private collectors.

The Fabergé eggs are regarded as masterpieces of the decorative arts, and it is worth the time to look them up. They are exquisite. (P.S. There are no actual eggs involved.)  

Honor the traditions and get out the dye. It is that time again!


Doris Montag is a homespun historian and an exhibit curator who researches and displays historical collections of ordinary things, such as can openers, crochet, toy sewing machines, hand corn planters, powder compacts, egg cartons, and more. Contact or follow her on Facebook, HistoryofOrdinaryThings.



Homemade dye recipe:

½ cup boiling water

1 tsp. white vinegar

10-20 drops food coloring

Allow to cool

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