Easter Egg Hunt Traced to Europe : Tradition: Theology professor says it is not clear why and when the egg was added to festivities, but some believed that they were talismans, bringing good fortune and warding off evil.


It is a tradition as familiar to Christians as a Christmas tree: the annual egg hunt that leads millions of American families traipsing through bushes and peeking behind couches on Easter morning.

While the Easter egg itself probably has ties to ancient spring fertility rites, the Easter egg hunt most likely originated in Europe a mere thousand years ago, says Lizette Larson-Miller, a Loyola Marymount University theology professor who specializes in the history of religious practices.

Much like Elizabethan actors, the monks of the 11th and 12th centuries donned veils during the Easter season and acted out the New Testament story of the women who visited Jesus’ tomb at dawn on Easter morning to search for his body, only to discover he had been resurrected.

Loathe to bring their dramas into the church sanctuary, the monks performed outside the church doors for the benefit of parishioners who could not understand the Latin liturgy.


Although the dramas are still enacted in monasteries, said Larson-Miller, “the custom has largely changed from a drama to a domestic holiday tradition.”

It is not clear, she said, why and when the egg was added to the festivities, although among ancient believers, eggs were thought to be talismans, bringing good fortune and warding off evil.

“Some believe Martin Luther was the first to suggest that the men in the household hide eggs in their gardens--representing the garden of Christ’s tomb--for their wives and children to find,” she said.

The tradition of coloring Easter eggs goes back to the earliest Easter celebrations, she said. But in contrast to the multicolored varieties of today, eggs were originally dyed only red, to symbolize the blood of Jesus. Members of some Eastern European churches still use only red dye.


And another tradition, less familiar to mainstream America, still lives on among the monks: breaking eggs according to Eastern Christian and Greek custom.

In the Russian Orthodox tradition, members of a family each hold a hard-boiled egg and crack it against another’s. One person says, “Christos anesti ,” meaning “Christ is risen” in Greek. The other responds, “Alithos anesti, " meaning “He is risen, indeed.”

The red color signifies the blood of Jesus; the shell signifies his three-day entombment, and its breaking, the Resurrection. The cracking of the red eggs among the Orthodox symbolizes a mutual wish to break the bonds of sin and misery and entering the new life signified by the Resurrection.