Why Do We Dye Easter Eggs?

The tradition dates back some 2,500 years.

Spring brings blooming flowers, warmer days, and Easter celebrations. To mark the occasion, people head to church and organize family gatherings filled with good food and good fun. Specifically, Easter egg hunts! Little girls in their Easter dresses and boys in their Sunday best prowl around the garden or the house looking for hidden treasures.

The history of transforming eggs into brightly colored gems isn't a modern invention, though. In fact, decorating eggs is a tradition that dates back at least some 2,500 years. There is evidence that the Trypillian culture that lived in Central Europe from 4,500 BC to 3,000 BC dyed eggs. Generally, historians seem to think that the custom got started when the ancient Persians, or Zoroastrians, painted eggs for Nowruz, or Persian New Year, according to The Kitchn. That custom continues today among some Persian families who dye eggs to mark Nowruz.

Blue Dyed Easter Eggs in Egg Crate

The exact moment that Christians started dyeing eggs has been lost to the annals of history, but it's been a part of Easter celebrations for centuries. When Christianity spread to Ukraine in the 10th century, the old tradition of drawing on eggs with wax and dye, called pisanki or pysanky, became associated with the new religion. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, dyed red eggs have marked the occasion since Mary Magdalene went to visit the tomb of Jesus and discovered that he was no longer there and her snack basket of eggs turned bright red.

In the year 1290, England's King Edward I ordered 450 eggs to be colored or covered with gold leaf to be given to the royal relatives and entourage, according to TIME. The tradition continued a few years later when the Vatican sent Henry VIII an egg in a silver case to mark the Easter season. Starting in the 13th century, villagers would deliver baskets of Easter eggs to the lords of the manor every holiday and, TIME reports, there was evidence that even in the 16th and 17th centuries those eggs might have been colored.

It wasn't until the late 19th century that eggs became treats for children thanks in part to the Victorians who loved a good old tradition. (It is the Victorians we have to thank for Christmas trees too!) It was their love of historical fun that helped bring the art of dyeing Easter eggs into the modern era. Easter-egg hunts came next, and the White House got in on the fun, hosting the first annual Easter Egg Roll in 1878.

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