The coloring and
decoration of eggs is a custom which has also been practised since
quite ancient times in the Orient. Before the popularity of chocolate,
natural hen's eggs were decorated by children: in the countryside, they
were dyed in red with onion rings, cooked a pale pink colour using
radish peels or green using nettle or ivy leaves.
Easter egg decorated with a Coat of Arms
Picture by Erich Ferdinand
In the countries of
Eastern Europe, orthodox Christians became great specialists in turning
eggs into works of art. Hard boiled eggs or uncooked whole eggshells
with their insides blown out through a hole were often very ornately
decorated. Further West in Europe, French Patissiers would
empty the yolk and white from chicken eggs and fill them with
chocolate, then paint the outside of the shell.
From Russia to Greece,
orthodox Christians usually paint their eggs in a red colour, whereas
in Germany, the dominant color is green. The tradition there is so
strong that Holy Thursday (commemorating when Jesus and his disciples
had the Last Supper, on the day before Good Friday) is known as Green
A Ukrainian Painted Egg
Photo by zephrene
The colors used when
painting have the following meanings in some regions:
- Red symbolizes the sacrificial death of Christ
Yellow stands for the desire for illumination and wisdom
White is the color of purity.
Green symbolises youth and innocence.
Orange indicates strength, perseverance and ambition
In particular in the
slavic parts of Europe the art of egg decoration is still very much
alive, ranging from simple batik painting to engraving and etching
techniques. These eggs are often arranged with bunches of green birch
twigs to create an easter bouquet which may be hung or decorated with
other gifts in an easter basket. In the Czech village of Libotenice
there is even a gallery which is entirely dedicated to the
tradition of painting of Easter eggs by hand, which also allows
visitors to try some of the decorative techniques is they wish.
The custom of decorated
eggs became the ultimate fine art with the particularly splendid large
Faberge Eggs which were made between 1885 and 1917.
The custom of hiding
painted eggs in the garden, to be searched for by joyful
children is maintained in many countries. It is said to symbolize the
persecution of the baby Jesus by Herod and the intervention of God to
stop Jesus being found.