How do decorated eggs relate to Easter?

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Have you ever wondered what decorated eggs have to do with Easter?

“One version of this story,” says the Rev. Taylor W. Burton-Edwards, former director of worship resources for United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, “is that the egg was white to start with, that the emperor scoffed that resurrection was as likely as the white egg turning red, and then it did turn red. Another version is that the egg was red to begin with, as a sign of the blood of Christ.”

Orthodox icons often portray Mary Magdalene holding a red egg or a flask of myrrh. Burton-Edwards notes, “Iconography means ‘icon writing,’ not ‘icon painting,’ and that the images ‘written’ here were intended to convey ideas and theology more than factual stories.” The egg itself was already a sign of new life in Eastern cultures.

“The flask of myrrh in her other hand, usually also in a reddish hue, was a sign of Mary’s presence at the tomb to anoint Christ’s body for burial,” he adds. “If (Mary) needed to be a sign of both death and resurrection, she might hold both items. If she needed to be a sign more of one than the other, she might hold only one.”

The origin of people coloring and decorating eggs is not certain. Some sources report the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians and Romans colored eggs for spring festivals. In medieval Europe, people offered beautifully decorated eggs as gifts. In Russia and Poland, writes Pamela Kennedy in The Symbols of Easter, people spent hours drawing intricate designs on Easter eggs. In early America, children colored eggs using dyes made from bark, berries and leaves.

As the story of Christ’s Resurrection spread, Kennedy adds, “people saw the egg as a symbol of the stone tomb from which Christ rose. They viewed the hatching birds and chicks as symbols of the new life Jesus promised his followers.”

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