Eggs are a conspicuous part of an Italian Easter bread, and for Greek Easter bread as well as reader Rick reminds me. The two are virtually identical save for the fact that in the Greek version the eggs are all dyed a single color: a deep crimson red. That’s standard for Greek Orthodox Catholics, being a bit more doctrinaire than most Roman Catholics. I guess they don’t call it “Orthodox” for nothing.
In the orthodox tradition Easter eggs are always dyed blood red to symbolize the drops of blood shed by Christ on the cross. Roman Catholics, like other Christians who celebrate Easter, tend to approach Easter eggs with a bit more frivolity. Ours come in all colors of course, they can be tie-dyed, drawn upon, you name it.
These days most of us don’t think much about the symbolism, which is fundamentally that of rebirth. You can take that literally in the sense of a new chick continuing the cycle of life, or more metaphorically in the sense of a seemingly inanimate object — something “dead” — coming to life. In some traditions the egg represents the tomb where the apostles placed the body of Jesus after the crucification, in others it’s the stone that was rolled across the tomb door. You can go in a lot of directions with something as elemental as an egg.
But the egg is of a piece with the whole “rebirth” theme of the season. Chickens start to lay eggs again in the spring after a winter hiatus. Undomesticated birds do as well. Not coincidentally, rabbits and hares produce their largest litters in the early spring, which is where the Easter bunny comes into the picture. As you might expect, The Bunny is a relatively late comer on the Easter scene. Originally a hare that served a function not unlike Santa Claus, he was invented by German Lutherans in the middle 1600’s.