Every year, children around many parts of the world rush around in a frenzied hunt for chocolate eggs carefully hidden by the Easter Bunny, thanks to a tradition that is thought to have started in Germany.
While the egg has long been associated with new life and rebirth, Christian traditions also adopted it as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. A hollowed-out shell is seen as a metaphor for his empty tomb, which according to the Bible was discovered by a group of women. To commemorate this, in the late 16th century the Protestant reformer Martin Luther is said to have organised egg hunts for his congregation, where men would hide eggs for women and children to find.
The tradition developed from its religious roots to incorporate the Easter Hare, later known as the Easter Bunny. While the animals have no link to the Bible, they are a symbol of the time of year because of their famous fertility. The story goes that the Easter Bunny would lay brightly coloured eggs for well-behaved children to find on the morning of Easter Sunday. Some children would prepare nests in the garden for eggs to be left in, and even leave out carrots to refuel the Bunny after all its hopping.
The idea soon spread from Germany, finding its way to the US when an influx of German immigrants arrived in Pennsylvania in the early 18th century.
In England, it was Queen Victoria who helped popularise the tradition after participating in egg hunts as a young girl in the gardens of Kensington Palace, put on by her German-born mother, the Duchess of Kent.
The tradition has evolved from the original-coloured eggs to now involve chocolate eggs, candy, or coins. Eager children will head out carrying a basket to collect as many of these treats as they can. The term ‘Easter egg’ has even become the phrase used to describe an intentionally hidden clue or joke in a film or video game.
In other places in the world, it’s not the Easter Bunny who hides eggs for children: in France they’re brought by flying bells and in Australia it’s the Easter Bilby.