The history of the Easter egg hunt
“Here comes Peter Cottontail, hoppin’ down the bunny trail, hippity hoppin’ Easter’s on its way!”
As a child, the anticipation of finding Peter Cottontail’s hidden Easter eggs was a number one priority. But, did we ever take a moment to think why...eggs? Why are eggs, in particular, so cherished on Easter day?
Eggs are presented in a variety of different fashions on the holiday: deviled, hard boiled with decorations, plastic ones with prizes inside, gold eggs, and other styles. To get to the bottom of this, let’s take it back to where this egg-craze first started.
In many pre-Christian societies, the egg symbolized the idea of new life and represented spring.
During the medieval period, no eggs were to be consumed during the 40-day period (Lent) before Easter. Men and women awaited Easter day to indulge in the delicacy, which played a key part in the celebration. Eggs were given as offerings to those in power, and even to the church as Good Friday offerings.
In 1290, Edward I imagined decorated eggs, so he decided to buy 450 of them! He had them painted in colors and pressed with gold leaf, then distributed throughout his household as decoration.
Now let’s get to the huntin’ side of things.
The hunt itself derives from Germany and is said to date back to the late 16th century, where Martin Luther, Protestant for the Lutheran church, organized egg hunts for his congregation. Men would hide the eggs, while women and children went to find them. The act of finding the egg symbolizes Jesus being found in the tomb.
The German tradition is tied to the famous Easter Bunny, or Easter Hare, as he was originally named, who secretly places the eggs.
The true trendsetter was Queen Victoria and her mother, who both played strong parts in the rise of the Easter Egg Hunt. When she was a child, Victoria’s mother would host egg hunts at Kensington Palace in London, England. We know this because 14-year-old Victoria wrote in her diary on April 7, 1833, “Mama did some pretty painted & ornamented eggs, & we looked for them”.
According to Victoria’s diary entries, Easter egg hunting continued to be a tradition as she grew up and then with her own children. The eggs were hard-boiled, decorated, and scattered throughout the yard for family and friends to hunt!
For Victoria and her mother, there were no egg coloring kits. They used natural ingredients to color the eggs, such as onion skins, which gave off a rich golden hue, and gorse flowers for a yellow hue.
In 1863, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary that her baby, Beatrice, was delighted to receive a huge Easter egg that contained a doll in it. According to the Illustrated London News in 1850, artificial eggs started to trend and became a part of the holiday in 1874. The trend continued to evolve into mainstream England in the late 19th century.
Now, the Easter holiday is in full motion-- egg hunting, Easter bunny, and all. Easter has grown from being a primarily religious holiday into one that is centered on family, children’s happiness, and a celebration of Spring. Easter is just around the corner, so make sure you join in on this historically rich tradition and remember to look out for Peter Cottontail in your backyard!