Why do we exchange chocolate eggs at Easter? History and meaning of tradition

The Easter eggs they are very popular in all Christian countries. They generally are made of chocolatebut in some cases they are used real eggs (of chicken or other animal) specially decorated, or even ovoid-shaped plastic objects that contain a surprise. The origin of Easter eggs dates back to first centuries of Christianitywhen the egg – an “object” symbol of fertility, which contains life inside – was associated to the resurrection of Jesus, based on myths and symbolic meanings already widespread in pre-Christian civilizations. However, the custom of preparing chocolate egg and insert a surprise within them it is much more recent and only established itself in the twentieth century.

The egg as a symbol: its meaning

The egg has taken on symbolic meanings since ancient times. In fact, despite appearing outwardly as an inert objectinside potentially contains life. For this reason, many civilizations have interpreted it as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. In various cultures of the past the myth ofcosmic eggthat is, a “primordial” egg from which the universe would derive.

Furthermore, in the ancient world, the traditions of decorate the eggs and to exchange them as gifts. Naturally, real eggs were used, coming from chickens or other animals.

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Depiction of the primordial egg
Depiction of the primordial egg

The history of Easter eggs: the origin in Christianity

The Christianity he understood the symbolism of the egg and associated it with Easter. The egg, in fact, being the emblem of life that renews itself, was particularly suitable for symbolize the resurrection of Jesus. Furthermore, since Easter falls in spring, the egg was also interpreted as a symbol of nature's rebirth.

The custom of exchanging Eggs as an Easter gift became widespread in the Middle Ages. Generally, real eggs were used, but in some cases aristocratic families gave shells covered in gold or other precious materials.

The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca
The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

The birth of the chocolate egg tradition

The chocolate egg is much more recent, but there is no certain information about its origins. According to one of the most widespread theories, it dates back to the time of Louis XIV, king of France between 1643 and 1715, who allegedly ordered his pastry chefs to fill the shell of a real egg with cocoa cream. According to another hypothesis, the first chocolate eggs were made by the master chocolatiers of Turin in the eighteenth century.
What is certain is that the tradition of chocolate eggs, despite being attested since the 18th century, has persisted widespread especially in the twentieth century and, as we all know, it took a different form: instead of filling a real egg with cocoa, a chocolate “shell” is built and a surprise is placed inside.

The surprise in the Easter egg

The origins of the surprise are also not known with certainty. One of the most widespread theories is that the custom derives from Fabergé eggs, that is, egg-shaped objects made with precious materials by the Russian jeweler Fabergé, between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for the tsar and his family. Fabergé eggs they contain miniatures of various objects within them (sailing ships, carriages, weapons, etc.).

It is not certain, however, that the custom of including a surprise in Easter news derives from Fabergé jewels; according to other hypotheses, it already existed previously. In any case, the tradition of surprise is widespread only since the 1920s.

A Fabergé egg (credits Satn Shelbs)
A Fabergé egg (credits: Satn Shelbs)

Traditions associated with Easter eggs

Numerous games and traditions are associated with Easter eggs, which differ depending on the country. In the Anglo-Saxon world, for example, the game ofegg rolling, which consists of rolling real eggs on a surface (usually a lawn), trying to get them as far as possible without breaking them. A competition of egg rolling takes place annually at the White House on Easter Monday.

In some states it is widespread egg hunt: adults hide eggs (real or chocolate) in the house or garden and children challenge each other to look for them. In countries with an Orthodox majority, the tradition of preparing is popular hard-boiled eggs and decorate them redsymbol of the Passion of Jesus.

Egg rolling at the White House in 1982
Egg rolling at the White House in 1982, as President Reagan looked on


Encyclopedia Britannica, Easter Egg World Fabergé