In case you missed it, The White House has announced that on April 25th, they will be holding their annual Easter Egg Roll, an annual event that stretches back to 1878 during the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes.
By 1899, the event had become so popular that over 8,000 people were in attendance. This year, the White House expects over 30,000 people to attend.
Despite the Easter Egg Roll being held every year, except for the years of the two World Wars and the Truman renovation of the White House, not until President Nixon would an Easter Bunny be part of the festivities, while President Reagan was the first to hide eggs with his signature.
This year, in keeping with First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign, the Egg Roll has been titled ``Get Up and Go’’, with its emphasis for children to lead happy and healthy lives, which will feature a number of athletes, including Olympic athletes Tyson Gay and Bryan Clay.
With Easter eggs, not only at the White House, but within households throughout the United States, having become such a staple of our culture, I was curious exactly how long this tradition has been in existence.
One of the earliest references to Easter eggs holds that the egg was a symbol of the universe in the worship of Dionysius in Greece; and accordingly, many people looked upon it as a symbol of life.
Cultural historians, then, claim, when Christians borrowed the egg from other cultures, they made it symbolic of the resurrection of Christ, while children’s egg hunts is believed to have originated in the southern part of Germany by 1890, just about the same time as candy rabbits started popping up in the United States.
Before the Civil War, Easter celebration in the United States was largely restricted to Puritans and Evangelicals. It wasn’t until the flood of immigrants entered the country after the Civil War did Easter become celebrated in many Episcopalian, and Roman Catholic churches.
Of course, the emphasis on elaborate church ceremonies at Easter has a rich history, which many considered influenced by Roman Emperor Constantine in the early part of the fourth century.
And the tradition of the rabbit on Easter, many believe, can be traced back to Western Europe with the worship of the Anglo-Saxon figure of ``Ostara or Eostre’’, considered the goddess of the spring, who was worshipped in April.
By 1868, many U.S. newspapers began writing about the tradition of church goers putting on their most stylish dresses on Easter Sunday; and by 1879, The N.Y. Sun reported on the Easter Parade.
By 1878, Macy Department store advertisements could be found in many New York newspapers; and in the same year, The New York Sun ran an ad by E. Ridley & Sons promoting "Trimmed Bonnets and Round Hats, Manufactured for Easter.’’
An article from The New York Herald gave an indication just how popular the celebration of Easter was when in 1881 they wrote: ``A few years ago and Easter as holiday was scarcely thought of, except by the devout; now all are eager to join in the celebration."
It should also be remembered that eggs are firmly rooted with the Jewish tradition; the pasche egg has its origins in the Passover meal. And Jewish scholars highlight that the word egg is loosely interpreted as a symbol of spiritual rebirth, that is, to a new life after bondage in Egypt, and ``to the hope of redemption after persecution.’’
By and large, however, if you want to trace the real origins of the Easter Egg, you will soon realize that it was really a phenomenon brought to the United States by immigrants who held tightly to their native customs and traditions.
In pre-revolutionary Russia, for example, the sharing of eggs became an integral part of the Easter celebration. And in one year, historical records show the Tsar’s family presented each other with elaborate eggs designed by a prominent court jeweler.
Another Russian tradition was for members of the aristocracy to wear a necklace with tiny eggs, beginning with the midnight service and continue wearing it for 40 days after Easter.
In Poland, Russia, and the Ukraine, the tradition is for a family to return home for a meal after their Easter Sunday service with the food having already been blessed the previous day on Holy Saturday by a priest. The custom is after the priest blesses the food, the family presents him with an egg. Then, before the Easter meal, the family stands in silence while the head of a household breaks an egg (which had previously been blessed by the priest) and distributes a piece to everyone present, while offering up blessings for happiness and a long life.
In England, historical records show King Edward I (1307) plunked down eighteen pence for the purchase of four hundred and fifty eggs, so that they could be colored or covered with gold leaf and be presented to members of the royal household.
Throughout Europe, red eggs are quite common during Easter with the color red representing Jesus shedding his blood. In Hungary, the custom is to decorate Easter eggs with red flowers, while children in Germany are told the Easter Hare sheds nothing but red eggs on Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) to prepare children for the Passion of Christ.
In many of the Catholic countries, such as France, church bells fall silent from Maundy Thursday until Easter. During this time, children are told the bells have gone to Rome to visit the Pope in order to collect the eggs for Easter Sunday.
In Ireland, children can be found collecting goose and duck eggs during Holy Week which are then presented as gifts on Easter Sunday. One popular Irish saying is: "One egg for a true gentleman, two for a gentleman, three for a churl [rude, boorish person], four for a tramp.’’
In England, particularly in Yorkshire and Lancashire, an old custom at Easter was for participants to dress in eccentric clothes with fake beards while proceeding through the village, begging for pace-eggs, food or money.
In Bulgaria, dyed eggs are prepared for a special festival, while the Easter cake (kusanak) is decorated with grapes, cocoa, nuts and fruit and served for breakfast on Easter Sunday with milk and salad made from the broken eggs from the traditional egg-tapping game.
In addition, Bulgarians, celebrate St. Lazarus' Day eight days before Easter in which groups of young girls go from house to house to honor the resurrection of Lazarus, where they are given red eggs and coins as tokens thought to bring them good luck.
In Macedonia, the tradition is to dye Easter Eggs red on Maundy Thursday and then to display red sashes or handkerchiefs from the windows and balconies. Also in Macedonia, children return home after the Eastern Midnight mass to find red Easter Eggs under their pillows. In South Macedonia, moreover, red eggs are believed to be effective in warding off hail and thunder.
Instead of being flooded with gifts at Christmas, in Greece, Easter is reserved for the time of family gatherings and the sharing of gifts; and two weeks before their festival, colored eggs filled with sweets can be bought at a number of shops, including a vast assortment of Easter cards. Also in Greece, on the Tuesday and Thursday before Easter, residents hard-boil and decorate several eggs.
And in Serbia, children will often place red eggs in their vineyards on Good Friday in order to ensure a successful harvest.
So while the youngsters prepare for their traditional Easter Egg hunt in the next few days, they might be reminded how their discovery of a red-colored egg has special significance in so many different cultures and countries spanning the globe.
April 21, 2011