When you think of Easter, certain things come to mind. This Christian holiday evokes thoughts of sunny spring days, rebirth, bunnies and eggs.  Decorated eggs, egg rolling and egg hunts have all become a vital part of the Easter celebration as we know it today. Yet the custom of painting hard-boiled eggs during spring time pre-dates Christianity. In many cultures around the world, the egg is a symbol of new life, fertility and rebirth. For thousands of years, Iranians and others have decorated eggs on Nowruz, the Iranian New Year that falls on the spring equinox.

Many people believe that the Easter has pagan roots.  While Christians celebrate it as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, during ancient times in Europe pagans revered the Spring Equinox as the return of the sun God — a rebirth of light and an emergence from the lean winter. Venerable Bede, an English monk who wrote the first history of Christianity in England, argued that the word Easter is derived from the goddess Eostre.  English and Germanic cultures believed Eostre to be a pagan fertility goddess, but there is no evidence of her outside of Bede’s writings.  In fact, in most other languages, the word for Easter (Pascua in Spanish and Pasques in French for example) derives from the Greek and Latin “Pascha” or “Pasch” for Passover.

The painting of Easter eggs is a beloved tradition, especially among the people of the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches who dye eggs red to symbolize the blood that Jesus shed on the cross.   The priest blesses the eggs at the end of the Easter service and distributes them to the congregants. The hard shell of the egg represents the sealed Tomb of Christ, and cracking the shell symbolizes Jesus rising from the dead.

Fun and games with Easter eggs have become popular ways to celebrate the holiday over the years. Hiding eggs outdoors provides a fun activity for children as they search for them and fill their baskets on Easter morning. The Easter egg roll represents a re-enactment of rolling away the stone from the front of Jesus’ tomb. The White House Easter Egg Roll is an annual event held on the lawn of the President’s residence on the Monday after Easter.