The Easter egg is quite as important an item to the modern manufacturer of toys and sweetmeats as it was to the ancient religious devotee, who believed that eggs laid on Good Friday could be kept all the year, simply because the day itself exercised some charm on the products of the farmyard. But why an egg? and why Easter? Why is a Christmas egg of no account at all? Gébélin, author of The Religious History of the Calendar, answers these questions by saying that all the nations of antiquity--the Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Greeks, Gauls, and others--regarded the egg as an emblem of the Universe--a work of the supreme Divinity. Easter was the time of the solar New Year--the day of the renewal of all things--the incubation of Nature. The colouring and ornamentation of Easter eggs seems to have been part of the original custom, and was taken over by the Church, who used red to denote the blood of Christ. The following statement from Emilianne's Romish Monks and Priests is interesting:--
"On Easter Eve and Easter Day, all the heads of families send great chargers, full of hard eggs, to the Church to get them blessed, which the priests perform by saying several appointed prayers, and making great signs of the Cross over them, and sprinkling them with holy water. The priest, having finished the ceremony, demands how many dozen eggs there be in every bason?" . . . "These blest eggs have the virtue of sanctifying the entrails of the body, and are to be the first fat or fleshy nourishment they take after the abstinence of Lent. The Italians do not only abstain from flesh during Lent, but also from eggs, cheese, butter, and all white meats. As soon as the eggs are blessed, every one carries his portion home, and causeth a large table to be set in the best room in the house, which they cover with their best linen, all bestrewed with flowers, and place round about it a dozen dishes of meat, and the great charger of eggs in the midst. 'Tis a very pleasant sight to see these tables set forth in the houses of great persons, when they expose on side-tables (round about the chamber) all the plate they have in the house, and whatever else they have that is rich and curious, in honour of their Easter eggs, which of themselves yield a very fair show, for the shells of them are all painted with divers colours and gilt. Sometimes they are no less than twenty dozen in the same charger, neatly laid together in the form of a pyramid. The table continues in the same posture, covered, all the Easter week, and all those who come to visit them in that time are invited to eat an Easter egg with them, which they must not refuse."
As in the case of hot cross buns, the emblem and the religious idea have become obscured, and this pagan-Christian relic survives only as a social custom.