by Ian Makay
Judeo-Christian culture was not the first and it is far from the only society to have found the egg's alabaster shell an ideal canvas. Egg coloring preceded Christianity itself by almost a millennium with evidence found indicating that the Chinese were adorning eggs at least as early as 900 B.C.
Common threads join virtually all forms of egg art. Anthropological studies almost universally find the egg to be a symbol of fertility and rebirth, with its artistic manifestations at the core of many religious belief systems. As such, ritualistic ornamentation of eggs most often revolved around specific holidays or general celebrations associated with spring.
Easter and Lenten egg painting found their roots, in part, in the pre-Christian traditions of the people of northern Europe. Colored eggs of migratory birds returning from warmer climates marked the return of spring to many in the north. It is speculated that artistic renderings on eggs probably occurred as domestication of fowl created a larger supply of white and brown eggs. Dyes using local vegetation then came to furnish a reasonable substitute for colored eggs once provided by the travelling harbingers of the earth's annual rebirth.
Roman and Orthodox Christian missionaries moved the metaphor a step further, as they sought to blend these ancient traditions with the message of spiritual renewal represented in the Resurrection. Egg art evolved to include intricate ornamentation replete with Christian symbols, iconography, and portraits.
Also visit the main Easter page. Includes Spring, Easter and Passover recipes, tips, lore and more.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998. Modified March 2007.
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