Far from being a recent phenomenon, the idea of egg decorating predates Christianity. The earliest known instance occurred in China in 722 B.C. A chieftain gave gifts of edible decorated eggs to commemorate a three day spring festival during which fires were prohibited. In ancient Persia (now Iran), Egypt and Greece, eggs were colored for spring festivals. Eggs were considered symbols of creation, fertility, rebirth and the regenerative abilities of nature, thus tying in strongly with spring.
So how did egg decorating become linked with Easter and Christianity?
The Venerable Bede, an eighth-century historian and theologian, believed that the name Easter was derived from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring, whose festival was celebrated on the first day of spring. Eggs, along with the hare, were emblems of this goddess. Thus, there is a possibility the Christian community adopted egg-decorating from pagan worship of this goddess.
Another explanation centers around the fact that, formerly, eggs were forbidden during Lent (the period of preparation immediately preceding Easter) and were allowed again on Easter day. So decorating eggs may have become popular as a symbol of celebration.
Regardless of the origin of the tradition, many ethnic groups developed their own ways to decorate eggs. Many Eastern Europeans, notably the Ukrainians, decorated and exchanged very intricate, colorful eggs, incorporating pagan and Christian symbols. The Pennsylvania Dutch were pioneers in bringing egg decorating to the New World. Their "scratch eggs" needed only natural dyes and common straight pins. They also can be credited with the Easter tree tradition (hanging decorated eggs from a dormant tree branch). Around the turn of the century, Peter Carl Faberge, master jeweler to the Russian Imperial Court, made a name for himself by creating very elaborate, gem-studded eggs which opened to reveal surprises. Faberge has perhaps made the most dramatic impact on the craft and will continue to influence eggers for years to come.
Here, you can learn the art of decorating eggs – through beading, clothing and using tissue papers:
• Pencil in a line around the middle of the egg. A rubber band is an easy guideline.
• Thread a narrow or beading needle . Glue end of thread to egg using "tacky glue."
• String "seed beads" (found in craft, fabric and jewelry supply stores) and glue to egg inch by inch along pencil line. Try to use all the same size beads. If bead sizes are indicated, use size 11.
• At the end of the row, draw the thread through the first three beads.
• Bring the thread up and bead the next row. Continue to the top of the egg. Fill the end hole with glue or cover with glued paper before beading. When finished, bring the needle through a few adjacent beads to secure the thread, then snip the thread.
• Bead the other half in an identical manner. Expect to spend eight to 12 hours on one egg!
• Cut cloth panels using the guides shown here. Use medium-weight, tightly-woven fabric.
• Mark the egg's top and bottom points with straight pins.
• Pin all the panels to a 2 3/8-inch-high plastic-foam egg. Respace panels or trim them as necessary. Remove panels one at a time and glue onto egg using "tacky" glue (found at craft stores).
• Glue ribbon over the panels' edges. You'll need 1 1/2 yards of ribbon up to one-quarter inch wide. On a 10-panel egg, wind the trim in full circles around the egg. On the five-panel, taper the ends of each length to points.
• Tie a bow and attach with glue.
Tissue paper-appliqued eggs
• Use a manicure scissor to cut small shapes from tissue paper. Multiple shapes can be cut simultaneously by stapling them in a stack with a stiffer piece of paper on top.
• Brush small spot on egg with clear lacquer or acrylic varnish. If using only black tissue, water-based adhesives such as thinned white glue can be used.
• Use brush to pick up tissue and apply to egg.
• Brush over tissue with more of the same adhesive.
• Brush entire egg with varnish or lacquer, or dip egg using a pipe cleaner as a handle. You can also coat the egg with acrylic spray varnish. Do not use lacquer over acrylic. Let dry.