Long before Cadbury released the first chocolate Easter egg in 1875, eggs have symbolized new life and renewed chances. The ancient Egyptians believed the world hatched from a “cosmic egg,” and pagans exchanged colourful eggs on the spring equinox. For Christians, eggs represent the tomb from which Jesus rose.
In medieval Europe, eating eggs was forbidden during Lent. They were boiled to keep them fresh until Easter weekend, when they were used to pay a yearly tithe to the Catholic Church. Ever since, eggs have been a part of Easter services within many Christian traditions, often dyed red. An old Ukrainian legend links this to Jesus’ suffering on the cross: his blood dripped onto a basket of eggs below, changing their colour. A Polish story contends that on the day of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene brought eggs with her that turned red when she noticed the empty tomb.
Pieces of art
The most basic decorated eggs are dyed a single colour, but eastern European traditions are much more elaborate. Pysanky, named for the Ukrainian word for “to write,” are multi-coloured works of art. “It [is] believed that they possessed an enormous power, not only in the egg itself, but also in the symbolic designs and colours,” says Joan Brander, a pysanky artist and instructor in Richmond, B.C. The designs — which often include geometric elements like triangles to represent the Holy Trinity — are created with the help of beeswax, which is added to the areas the artist wants to protect from a round of dye.
Hatching a monument
Canadians have put a new spin on old rituals: besides the egg hunts that happen in some churches, homes and public spaces across the country, Vegreville, Alta., boasts the world’s largest Easter egg. “Traditional eggs would have reds, yellows, greens, blues,” says Orest Olineck, a volunteer with the Vegreville Cultural Association. “But those colours fade with the sun. Instead, the artist used bronze to symbolize the good earth the people came to, and silver and gold for prosperity.” The giant egg, built in 1975, measures over nine metres long and weighs an impressive 2.3 tonnes.