From ancient history to the present eggs have been an important symbol in many cultures and religions. They are part of the creation myths of many nations, the “cosmic egg” from which all or parts of the universe arises. To the ancients, the egg embodied great power to bring new life and joy.
Egg decoration is one of the oldest decorative arts. In 2010 a cache of decorated ostrich eggs was found in South Africa dating from 65,000 to 55,000 years before the present. The earliest example in Europe was found in a tomb of a young girl in Worms (Germany) dated to the 4th century. At this time, decorated eggs were used at various holidays as well as in burials and were not yet exclusively associated with Easter. The Christian Church adopted the egg as a symbol of Christ’s Resurrection. St. Augustine first described Christ’s Resurrection from the dead as a chick bursting from an egg.
The most elaborate designs are found in Eastern Europe. The Eastern Slavic people in pagan times decorated eggs to commemorate their gods and to celebrate the sun’s arrival at the coming of spring. Painted eggs were, and still are, given as gifts to preserve the health of the recipient. A bowl of decorated eggs is commonly displayed in homes at all times of year, as they bring health to people in the house and protect against misfortunes.
While the craft of decorating real eggs is still practiced by some in its original form, other artists have taken up hand painting wooden, glass, metal eggs with intricate traditional or modern designs—the main advantage being that these can be displayed year after year without rotting.