If you ask what do colored eggs have to do with Easter, chances are someone will tell you about how the Catholic Church co-opted/stole pagan traditions and holidays. They will tell you that eggs are sacred to Ostara, the Goddess of Spring and that coloring eggs and hiding them was originally part of her celebrations.
However, no one asks the follow up question. Why in the world would people start coloring eggs in the first place? Especially when you realize how difficult and time consuming coloring eggs is when you don’t have Paaz or food coloring.
The answer is fascinating and takes us back to the first few centuries after the Agricultural Revolution. Imagine yourself in Germany, Northern France, Great Britain or Ireland during this period. You put aside as much food as you could last fall, but winter is long and this last one was particularly hard. Your stored food is getting kinda low and nothings been planted yet, much less harvested. But the days are getting longer and the snow is melting. The children have been cooped up inside for months. Yeah, they go outside more often than our children, but still with blizzards and freezing temperatures, they’ve been inside more than outside.
So while you and the other adults are working on extending the food supply by hunting or fishing, you send the kids
outside with their own job. “Go find us some eggs.” This is before wide spread domestication of chickens. So the children fan out across the fields, moors, forests and glens looking for birds’ nests. They find the nests of robins, quail, plover, partridge, pheasant, cormorant, heron, egrets, kestrel and owls. They come home with woven reed baskets filled with a rainbow of colored eggs. The baskets are lined with fresh grass to prevent the eggs from cracking against each other. The fuller the basket, the easier it will be for your family to make it to the bounteous late Spring and Summer.
It is easy to imagine how this annual scavenger hunt became connected to the Ostara celebrations which happen in mid-March. As poultry domestication became wide spread, the need for the egg hunt decreased, but children didn’t want to let it go. Why would they? It sounds like a lot of fun. So easy to acquire chicken eggs were used, but they’re just boring white. Kids wanted their rainbow of colors in their baskets.
So, like mothers have been doing since we were still chimps, the moms took on extra work to make their children happy. They began boiling eggs in onion skins, cabbage, blueberries and anything else that would give the eggs color and hid them in the grass. Presto, the tradition of coloring eggs was born!
So Ostara/Easter Eggs truly are heralds of Spring. A full egg basket meant you and your family are going to make it to Summer when days are warm and food is abundant. Pagan or Christian I hope you had a full basket of rainbow colored eggs to herald a bounteous year for you and your family. Blessed Be.