The Easter egg, decorated with colors or gilt, has always been acknowledged as a symbol of creation, fertility and new-life.
Before the egg became closely entwined with the Christian Easter, it was honored during many Rite-of-Spring festivals. The Romans, Gauls, Chinese, Egyptians and Persians all cherished the egg as a symbol of the universe. From ancient times, eggs were dyed, exchanged and shown reverence.
There is also a pagan connection between the egg and the ideas or feelings of birth, new life, and creation. According to the tale, Heaven and Earth were thought to have been formed from two halves of a mysterious World-Egg, the original germ from which all life proceeds, and whose shell is the firmament.
With the advent of Christianity, the symbolism of the egg changed to represent, not nature's rebirth, but the rebirth of man. Christians embraced the egg symbol and likened it to the tomb from which Christ rose. The shell can be seen as a nurturing, life giving tomb. The hatching chick represents Christ emerging from the tomb.
Old Polish legends blended folklore and Christian beliefs and firmly attached the egg to the Easter celebration. One legend tells of the time that Mary gave eggs to the soldiers at the cross. She entreated them to be less cruel and she wept. The tears of Mary fell upon the eggs, spotting them with dots of brilliant color.
Decorating and coloring eggs for Easter was the custom in England during the middle ages. The household accounts of Edward I, for the year 1290, recorded an expenditure of eighteen pence for four hundred and fifty eggs to be gold-leafed and colored for Easter gifts.
The most famous decorated Easter eggs were those made by the well-known goldsmith, Peter Carl Faberge. In 1883 the Russian Czar, Alexander, commissioned Faberge to make a special Easter gift for his wife, the Empress Marie.
The first Faberge egg was an egg within an egg. It had an outside shell of platinum and enameled white which opened to reveal a smaller gold egg. The smaller egg, in turn, opened to display a golden chicken and a jeweled replica of the Imperial crown. This special Faberge egg so delighted the Czarina that the Czar promptly ordered the Faberge firm to design further eggs to be delivered every Easter. In later years Nicholas II, Alexander's son, continued the custom. Fifty-seven eggs were made in all.
Ornamental egg designers believe in the symbolism of the egg and celebrate the egg by decorating it with superb artistry. Some use flowers and leaves from greeting cards, tiny cherubs, jewels and elegant fabrics, braids and trims, to adorn the eggs. They are separated, delicately hinged and glued with epoxy and transparent cement, then when completed, they are covered with a glossy resin finish.