Easter eggs are specially decorated eggs given to celebrate the Easter holiday or springtime. The oldest tradition is to use dyed or painted chicken eggs, but a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with confectionery such as jellybeans. These eggs are often hidden, allegedly by the Easter Bunny, for good children to find on Easter morning. Otherwise, they are generally put in a basket filled with real or artificial straw to resemble a bird's nest.
The ancient Persians painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration, which falls on the Spring equinox. The Nawrooz tradition has existed for at least 2,500 years. The decorated eggs are one of the core items to be placed on the Haft Seen, the Persian New Year display. The sculptures on the walls of Persepolis show people carrying eggs for Nowrooz to the king.
The only medieval source of information on Eostre, a Germanic goddess known from the writings of Bede who attributes her name to the festival, does not mention eggs at all. Some believe that Eostre was associated with eggs and hares. The Wikipedia article on Eostre notes that Bede may have merely speculated about the origin of the term "Easter" without having any definite information.
There are also good grounds for the association between hares (later termed Easter bunnies) and eggs, through folklore confusion between hares' forms (where they raise their young) and plovers' nests. In the 18th Century Jakob Grimm theorised a pagan connection to Easter eggs via a putatively Germanic goddess called Ostara.
The Western name for the festival of Easter derives from the Germanic word Eostre. It is only in Germanic languages that a derivation of Eostre marks the holiday. Most European languages use a term derived from the Hebrew pasch meaning Passover. In Spanish, for example, it is Pascua; in French, Paques; in Dutch, Pasen; in Greek, Russian and the languages of most Eastern Orthodox countries: Pascha. Some languages use a term meaning Resurrection, such as Serbian Uskrs.
The egg is widely used as a symbol of the start of new life, just as new life emerges from an egg when the chick hatches out. The egg is seen as symbolic of the grave and life renewed or resurrected by breaking out of it. The red supposedly symbolizes the blood of Christ redeeming the world and human redemption through the blood shed in the sacrifice of the crucifixion. The egg itself is a symbol of resurrection: while being dormant it contains a new life sealed within it.
The Easter egg tradition may also have celebrated the end of the privations of Lent in the West, though this is speculation. Eggs were originally forbidden during Lent as well as on other traditional fast days in Western Christianity (this tradition still continues among the Eastern Christian Churches). Since chickens would not stop producing eggs during this time, a larger than usual store might be available at the end of the fast if the eggs had not been allowed to hatch. The surplus, if any, had to be eaten quickly to prevent spoiling. Historically, it was traditional to use up all of the household's eggs before Lent begin, which established the tradition of Pancake Day being celebrated on Shrove Tuesday. This day, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday begins Lent, is also known as Mardi Gras, a French phrase which translates as "Fat Tuesday" to mark the last consumption of eggs and dairy before Lent begins.
Likewise, in Eastern Christianity, both meat and dairy are prohibited during the Lenten fast, and eggs are seen as "dairy" (a foodstuff that could be taken from an animal without shedding its blood). In the Orthodox Church, Great Lent begins on Clean Monday, rather than Wednesday, so the household's dairy products would be used up in the week preceding, called Cheesefare Week. Then, with the coming of Pascha (Easter), the eating of eggs resumes. But, for Orthodox Christians, the Easter egg is much more than a celebration of the ending of the fast, it is a declaration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Traditionally, Orthodox Easter eggs are dyed red to represent the blood of Christ, shed on the Cross, and the hard shell of the egg symbolized the sealed Tomb of Christ—the cracking of which symbolized his resurrection from the dead.
A Christian Orthodox tradition is the presenting of red colored eggs to friends while giving the Paschal greeting: "Christ is Risen!" to which the one greeted responds: "Indeed, He is Risen!" The Orthodox tradition holds that the custom derives from a Christian myth about Mary Magdalene and her role in spreading the Gospel. According to this tradition, after the Ascension of Jesus, Mary went to the Emperor of Rome and greeted him with “Christ has risen,” whereupon he pointed to an egg on his table and stated, “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.” After making this statement it is said the egg immediately turned blood red. She then began preaching Christianity to him. In the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, Easter eggs are blessed by the priest at the end of the Paschal Vigil, and distributed to the faithful. Each household also brings an Easter basket to church, filled not only with Easter eggs but also with other Paschal foods such as paskha, kulich or Easter breads, and these are blessed by the priest as well.
During Paschaltide, in some traditions the Paschal greeting with the Easter egg is even extended to the deceased. On either the second Monday or Tuesday of Pascha, after a memorial service people bring blessed eggs to the cemetery and bring the joyous paschal greeting, "Christ has risen", to their beloved departed (see Radonitza).
One would have been forced to hard boil the eggs that the chickens produced so as not to waste food, and for this reason the Spanish dish hornazo (traditionally eaten on and around Easter) contains hard-boiled eggs as a primary ingredient.
In the North of England, at Eastertime, a traditional game is played where hard boiled pace eggs are distributed and each player hits the other player's egg with their own. This is known as "egg tapping", "egg dumping" or "egg jarping". The winner is the holder of the last intact egg. The losers get to eat their eggs. It is also practiced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Lebanon, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, the Republic of Srpska and other countries. They call it tucanje. In parts of Austria, Bavaria and German-speaking Switzerland it is called Ostereiertitschen or Eierpecken. In South Louisiana this practice is called Pocking Eggs and is slightly different. The Cajuns hold that the winner eats the eggs of the losers in each round.
Easter eggs are a widely popular symbol of new life in Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Poland and other Slavic countries' folk traditions. A batik (wax resist) process is used to create intricate, brilliantly-colored eggs., the best-known of which is the Ukrainian pysanka. The celebrated Fabergé workshops created exquisite jewelled Easter eggs for the Russian Imperial Court. Most of these creations themselves contained hidden surprises such as clock-work birds, or miniature ships. A 27-foot (9 m) sculpture of a pysanka stands in Vegreville, Alberta.
There are many other decorating techniques and numerous traditions of giving them as a token of friendship, love or good wishes. A tradition exists in some parts of the United Kingdom (such as Scotland and North East England) of rolling painted eggs down steep hills on Easter Sunday. In the U.S., such an Easter egg roll (unrelated to an eggroll) is often done on flat ground, pushed along with a spoon; the Easter Egg Roll has become a much-loved annual event on the White House lawn. An Easter egg hunt is a common festive activity, where eggs are hidden outdoors (or indoors if in bad weather) for children to run around and find. This may also be a contest to see who can collect the most eggs.
When boiling hard-cooked eggs for Easter, a popular tan colour can be achieved by boiling the eggs with onion skins. A greater variety of colour was often provided by tying on the onion skin with different coloured woollen yarn. In the North of England these are called pace-eggs or paste-eggs. They were usually eaten after an egg-jarping (egg-tapping) competition.
Beeping Easter eggs are Easter eggs that emit various clicks and noises so that the visually-impaired children can hunt for Easter eggs. Some make a single, high-pitched sound and others play a melody.