It’s a tradition to hard-boil eggs or hollow them out and decorate them for Easter celebrations in many U.S. families (and families worldwide). While I was growing up, that was a given. In my own family, we took part in the egg coloring tradition, dipping eggs in a dye—that was the extent of the decorations. We parents also hid Easter jelly beans around the house for the hunt. I think our kids ate them, although today that makes me cringe because those jelly beans are pure sugar and certainly not a healthy food like real eggs, decorated or not.
What do eggs and decorating and hiding them have to do with Easter? The egg, after all, has been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring and new life. Decorating eggs is an ancient custom. For centuries eggs were dyed with natural ingredients from onion skins, green grass, beets, red raspberries, blueberries, and/or dark coffee. Red has been the most popular color for eggs. Some historians say that ancient Persians (Iranians) dyed hard-boiled eggs red for religious celebrations. Red eggs also have been symbolic in Christian celebrations, representing the blood of Christ.
In some families decorated hard-boiled eggs are hidden outdoors and there’s a race for youngsters to see how many they can find. On the Monday after Easter (tomorrow) the traditional White House Easter Egg Roll will take place, an event that has occurred since 1878 under the Administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Participants (age 13 and younger) roll dyed, hard-boiled eggs across the grass to a finish line or post. When a whistle is blown, children use stakes or long-handled spoons to roll the eggs down the White House South Lawn. Some kids just flip the eggs toward the goal line. The one whose egg crosses the finishing line first wins the game.
Historians say that American egg hunts may date back to the 1700s and Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants who believed in an egg-laying hare called Oschter Haws (or Osterhase). Children built nests for the hare, and later went to search for the eggs that the hare supposedly left behind.
Oschter Haws was the forerunner of the Easter Bunny, an animal that obviously does not lay eggs but is known for its fertility. After about 30-31 days, impregnated rabbits give birth to a dozen or more bunnies. Nevertheless, the Easter bunny tradition continues as nests are created for the hare/bunny in the form of Easter baskets filled with decorated eggs, jelly beans, and chocolate bunnies. What’s not to love about chocolate bunnies?