There are many, many traditions and origins tied to the modern practice of painting Easter eggs, but one of the oldest ones relates to Mary Magdalene.
Mary, as many of you know, was a disciple of Jesus who experienced a tremendous amount of grace and love from Christ, having led a very sinful life and looked forward to a future of no hope. Upon His death, the story goes to say that Mary brought hard boiled eggs to the foot of the cross and laid them there.
This may sound odd to you and me, but this was the time of the Passover, and hard boiled eggs (called beitzah) are one of the six food items offered on the Seder Plate during Passover as a symbol of mourning, and were the first thing offered to loved ones who are mourning the death of a loved one and eaten after a funeral.
So, for the Jews, the basket of eggs wouldn’t be an odd sight as they witnessed Mary, mourning the death of Jesus, bringing eggs to the cross. The story continues that as she laid these eggs at the foot of the cross, Jesus’ blood dripped down onto the eggs, essentially “painting” them red.
We can’t know for sure if this story is true, but for many years after that in many ancient churches, eggs would be painted at Easter time, but only painted red. It was years later that other festive colors started making appearances on Easter eggs.
Additionally, eggs were long a part of the list of foods to abstain from during Lent, and so enjoying them hard boiled (they had to be hard boiled to preserve them during Lent) on Easter Sunday was a long tradition of Christians around the world. So the mixture of multiple ancient traditions has morphed into a practice that, as fun as it is, has unfortunately become largely un-symbolic today.
For my family, we love having fun, and we love family traditions, so we enjoy painting eggs and looking for eggs, but we always use it as an opportunity every year to teach our kids the many levels of the Gospel story during Holy Week by telling them these (possible) origins to help them enjoy Easter and deepen their understanding of the Gospel.
And we always make sure to do one nice, dark, red egg.
What are your Easter traditions, and why do you do them? Have you heard of other stories that connect the tradition of Easter eggs, or other Easter traditions?