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March 30, 2004 > Easter Egg Hunt: The Legacy of Eggs and Rabbits

Easter Egg Hunt: The Legacy of Eggs and Rabbits

by Arathi Satish

A common sight at this time of year, whenever we go to the grocery store are eggs, coloring sets and stuffed rabbits. With the advent of spring, that's not surprising. Eggs and rabbits, two Easter symbols, have an ancient spring association.

The tradition of using eggs during Easter is symbolic of birth and fertility in many cultures. Eggs have been colored, dyed, decorated and painted by Romans, Russians, Egyptians, Persians and others. They were used in ancient spring festivals to represent the rebirth of life and later on, became symbolic of the rebirth of man rather than nature. In the fourth century, consuming eggs during Lent was forbidden and as egg laying by hens is plentiful during spring, people started to cook eggs in shells to preserve them. This gradually led to decorating and hiding eggs and the birth of Easter Egg Hunt. Soon, egg tossing and egg rolling appeared as spring activities. Easter bonnets and new spring clothes also symbolize the end of cold, dark days of winter and the beginning of brighter days of spring.

The origin of the Easter Bunny, a cute rabbit that hides eggs for the children to find, is not clear. According to ancient Egyptian legends, the hare, which comes out in the night to feed, is connected with the moon. Other cultures have used rabbits as a fertility symbol. A German book, published in 1682, mentions a story of a bunny laying eggs and hiding them in the garden. Ostara, in an Anglo-Saxon myth, turned her pet bird into a rabbit, which proceeded to lay colorful eggs that she gave to children.

Easter traditions vary around the world. Polish folktale tells the story of Virgin Mary giving eggs to soldiers at the cross as she asked for mercy. The tears she shed dropped on the eggs, mottling them with different colors. In Europe, different colored eggs were taken from nests to make talismans. They were also eaten ritually. According to this theory, the search for the eggs through the woods gradually led to Easter egg hunt. Wild birds' eggs were eventually replaced by colored eggs and possibly, Easter baskets were made to resemble birds' nests. The Easter basket also shows roots in a Catholic custom. Baskets filled with food were taken on Easter morning mass to be blessed. This gave rise to baskets filled with stuffed bunnies, chocolate bunnies and eggs, jellybeans, and toys.

Egg decoration appears in different cultures. In medieval Europe, as eggs were forbidden during Lent, they were given as gifts to children and servants. Orthodox Christians in Greece and the Middle East painted them red to resemble the blood of Christ. In Armenia, hollow eggs were decorated with religious themes. Germans give green eggs as gifts on Holy Thursday and hang hollow eggs on trees. The eggs are pierced by a needle and the contents are removed before display. The Slavic people decorate their eggs in special patterns of silver and gold. Austrians place tiny plants on eggs before boiling them. This creates patterns when the plants are removed. "Pysanky" (to design or write) are masterpieces created by applying wax in different patterns on the eggs. It is then dipped in successive baths of dye. After each dip, wax is painted over again where the preceding color is to remain. This results in a complex work of art.

It is interesting to note that hot cross buns were one of the earliest Easter treats that were made by monks in Europe and given to the poor during Lent. It is also said that pretzels were associated with Easter and the twists of a pretzel were supposed to be similar to arms crossed in prayer.

Of course the most glorious Easter eggs of all time are the world famous Faberge eggs. Around 1885, Russian jeweler Peter Carl Faberge created a jewelry egg for Czar Alexander III to give his wife Marie. Throughout Alexander's reign, only one egg was made and presented to the Czar for Easter. Two eggs were made during the reign of Nicholas II, one for the Czar's wife and one for his mother. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Faberge collection was dispersed and the eggs were sold in the west.

Eggs continue to play a great role. They have an important role in Easter sports. The two traditional games are Easter Egg Hunt and Easter Egg Roll. Maybe the most famous one is the one that takes place on the White House Lawn. One of the largest Easter Egg Hunts was held on March 20th, 1999, during Vision Australia Foundation's annual Easter Fair at Kooyong, Victoria, Australia, where 150,000 solid chocolate eggs were hidden by army troops and found by 3,000 children.

Cards and candies are very popular during Easter too. Easter cards were supposed to have originated in Victorian England, when a stationer added a greeting to a rabbit drawing. Chocolate eggs were supposed to have made their appearance in 1800s in Europe. The most interesting and sweet fact about Easter, according to the National Confectioner's Association is that Americans consume more than 7 billion pounds of candy during this season. Americans buy more than 600 million Marshmallow peeps. They also consume more than 15 million jellybeans at Easter and if all those jellybeans were lined up end to end, they would circle the globe more than three times!

Easter Egg hunts will be held in many parks and clubs. One of the major free events is being presented by the City of Newark Recreation and community Services Department, Newark Optimist Club and Newark Jaycees on Saturday, April 3rd. Egg hunts for different age groups is being held on the lawn behind the Community Center. For more information, call Newark Recreation and Community Services Department at (510) 742- 4437.

Goofy games and nighttime Egg Hunt will be held at the Teen Center, Fremont, on April 2nd for kids in the age group of 10-14 from 7-9:30 p.m. The cost is $7 in advance and $10 at the door. Whipped cream relays, upside down egg toss contests and rubber chicken races are being planned. The event will conclude with an in-the-dark egg hunt and prize drawing. Kids are supposed to bring a flashlight. Fee includes snack and game materials. For more information contact Gary at (510) 494-4388 or e-mail rdein@ci.fremont.ca.us.

Union City is planning an Egg Hunt Extravaganza, Saturday, April 10th at Kennedy Park. Egg hunts will be staggered for different age groups and additional activities are scheduled for the morning including a pancake breakfast. Look for details in this issue of Tri-City Voice.

 
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