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Why is the egg the symbol of Easter? Hens will only lay eggs when they've received at least 12 hours of light a day. Before electric lights, this meant hens only laid eggs in the six months of the year when the earth gets the most sunlight, from the spring equinox to the fall equinox. Fresh eggs were a natural sign of spring in the time when they were only available during the warm months of the year. Like seeds, the egg is also a symbol of the beginning of life. According to some historians, the egg was adopted as the symbol of Easter because Christians traditionally abstained from eating eggs during Lent. On Easter, they could break their egg-fast and eat them again. Eggs, according to St. Augustine, are also a symbol of hope, because the egg, like hope, is something that has not yet come to fruition. Another connection Christians make with the egg is the phoenix. This mythical bird builds a funeral pyre for itself and dies. From its ashes, an egg emerges, and the phoenix is reborn. Because of its death and resurrection, the phoenix became a symbol for Jesus. Many cultures consider the egg a symbol of rebirth and reincarnation. In Asia, eggs dyed red are given at births and funerals. In some parts of Africa, and also in the Appalachian Mountains in the United States, eggs are buried near cemeteries to encourage the souls of the dead to be reborn. The Easter egg hunt became popular in the United States only during the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln brought the practice to the White House lawn. The practice of hunting hidden eggs in spring predates Lincoln by thousands of years, though. It originated in Asia, where the hunt for the icon of reincarnation symbolized the individual's personal responsibility for his or her own karma. It's emblematic of the hunt for new life for the soul. In ancient Europe, the custom was to place eggs under the barn to increase the fertility of the animals...or under human beds to increase our own fertility. Planting eggs in a field or garden was also thought to make the plants more fruitful. Eggs, in many ancient mythologies, played an important role in the creation of the world. In Hindu and Phoenician mythology, the world is formed from an egg which emerges from the primordial waters and splits in two. One half becomes the earth, and the other half becomes the sky. The Finnish creation story tells of the world forming from eggs laid in the lap of the water-mother. Hawaiians also have a legend about the big island of Hawaii forming from an egg laid on the water. It's unknown if there is any historical connection between these early creation stories and the Easter egg, though.


Eggs play a role in the Jewish Passover meal, the seder. They represent mourning for the destruction of the Temple. The Jewish celebration of the ancestors' escape from Egypt may have borrowed the symbol of the egg from Egyptian mythology. Some European superstitions concern an egg laid by a hen on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter, commemorating the day Jesus died). It is said that such an egg is a powerful amulet against sudden death, or that it protects orchards from blight. The yolk of an egg laid on Good Friday, if kept for a hundred years, is said to turn into a diamond. Other traditions say it's the Easter rabbit that lays the eggs. This custom supposedly arrived in the United States with Pennsylvania Dutch settlers. German children prepared a nest for the "Oschter Haws" (Easter hare) on Easter eve and found it filled with colored eggs the next morning. The association of Jesus with the Easter bunny may have come about because the rabbit emerges from its burrow in the ground like Jesus emerging from his tomb. Some say the rabbit is also a form of the ancient Germanic goddess of the spring (sometimes called Eostre or Ostara, but this name may not be historically accurate), whose is a shape-shifter and can take on the form of any animals. Like the Greek goddess Artemis, the Roman Diana, or the Eastern European veela, she's the Lady of Wild Things, the huntress-goddess who serves as an intermediary between human beings and their game.

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