The Easter Egg's Pagan Origins
The egg, as a symbol of life, fertility, purity and eternity, has been prominent in the rituals, traditions and beliefs of people around the world, in a wide range of geographical regions and cultures since ancient times. However, the origins of decorating eggs for spring equinox, or Easter, is believed to be Ukranian.
Pysanka (писанка, plural: pysanky) is the name, in Ukrainian for decorated Easter eggs decorated with traditional folk designs. The tradition pre-dates Christianity and traced to the pagan new year and the re-birth of spring. With the official Christianization of Ukraine in the tenth century, the tradition was subsumed into the Christian system of belief, without ever completely losing its former significance.
The tradition began in the early middle ages as an art form and accessible means of communication for ordinary people who would have been “illiterate,” to create ritual objects and record their lives and beliefs in a symbolic language…on an egg.
The symbols which decorate pysanky underwent a process of adaptation over time. In pre-Christian times these symbols imbued an egg with magical powers to ward off evil spirits, guarantee a good harvest, insure fertility, and bring a person good luck. Pysanky were talismans, ritual objects.
After 988, when Christianity became the official state religion of Ukraine, pysankarstvo and other pagan practices were banned. This banning of old religious traditions was more successful among the ruling classes. The practice of creating small ceramic pysanky, which were included in the graves of upper class women and children, disappeared entirely.
Read more about the history and global celebrations of Spring Equinox and Easter here.