Easter - a movable feast celebrated on the first Sunday after the spring full moon, in the equinoctial period in which we witness the awakening of the seeds numbed by the winter frost - is one of the oldest festivals of the Christian liturgy and its roots are rooted in traditions not only Hellenistic -Roman but Celtic, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, up to the oriental ones.
Because Easter is fundamentally the feast of cosmic renewal, of the victory over death, of the resurrection of the gods and of nature with them, a feast that translates into the dense and complex symbolism of the sacred foods with which it is celebrated: the lamb, the dove, the egg. And it is the latter, the oldest and most widespread, that we will deal with.
From a strictly practical point of view, the Easter egg can be considered a memory of old traditions, when - after the orgy of Carnival and the fasts of Lent - it was consumed, previously established so that it would be preserved throughout the winter, as the last indispensable backup before, with the warmth of the incipient spring, the renewed fecundity of the earth removed the specter of hunger.
If, on the other hand, we move to a sacral level, here is the cosmic egg in the cosmogonic myths of numerous religions, a symbol of the perfect unity of the elements before the universe and living beings were born from their division. But since it is also an ancient symbol of death and resurrection, the egg passes to signify the rebirth of Nature in spring. Later, with the advent of Christianity, as a single-celled entity made up of shell, albumen and yolk, it became a symbol of both the Trinity and the Resurrection of Christ who victoriously broke the “shell” of the tomb. And therefore, just as the egg depicted in the tombs of the first martyrs is a symbol of Eternal Life, the chick that comes out of the shell was a metaphor for the Resurrection for the first Christians.
Once upon a time, the "Egg Easter" was celebrated by donating and consuming colored hard-boiled eggs blessed in church, thus covering the tradition of exchanging decorated eggs as a wish for fertility of the earth with a religious veneer, perpetuated in many places as far back as the Far East. of abundant harvests.
Along this line, the red eggs distributed at Easter in the Piana degli Albanesi (Palermo) perhaps refer to the Roman tradition of burying a red egg in the fields to encourage harvests. And the reference to fertility is implicit in the presence of whole eggs in the Easter focaccias of many Italian regions. Eggs that hide in the Genoese pasqualina cake with thirty-three very thin sheets (thirty-three like the years of Christ), which triumph, once again with the shell colored in red, on the Friulian titles, which gently swell the belly of the Sicilian pupa ccu l'ova.
In Etruscan tomb scenes, the deceased at a banquet sometimes hold an egg in their hands, a metaphor for their journey into the afterlife, just like certain statues of Dionysus, the god killed and dismembered and then reborn from the leg of Zeus who had stitched up the various pieces. .
And, if we turn to the rich material of myths and folk tales, we find that it is precisely from its egg-shaped nest that the Phoenix is reborn, which has been incinerated by the rays of the Sun; that always from the ashes the egg from which the legendary Bird of Fire emerges; that in an egg Koshej the Immortal, a character from Slavic mythology, has hidden his vital energy.
It seems that the custom of boiling eggs wrapped in leaves and flowers that colored them in a pleasantly natural way originated in the Middle Ages in Germany, where they were distributed to servants. The people used them as a humble gift among acquaintances; the wealthy classes replaced them with precious metal eggs.
The Sun King is credited with having his chocolatier make the first cocoa cream egg, while the one with a thin chocolate shell in which to insert a small gift is said to have been created in 1828 by a Dutch chocolatier. Van Hauten: an idea, however, claimed by the Turinese as their tradition in force since the previous century.
In the meantime, from sweet or metallic eggs we had passed to those of the highest goldsmithery inaugurated by Peter Carl Fabergé, active in the court of the tsars. The preciousness of his first creation, commissioned by the tsar as a gift to his wife, was enhanced by a second golden egg inserted in the first and containing in turn a golden chick and a miniature reproduction of the imperial crown.
Rather recent is the appearance, next to the eggs and the chocolate bells (which refer to the traditional "melting of the bells" at midnight on Holy Saturday) of a proliferation of mysterious, inexplicable bunnies. And to a self-styled Easter Bunny, Aster Bunnymund, is entrusted in the Disney cartoon, The 5 Guardians, the Hope to save humanity from Evil.
The reason? Two legends - one of which is older, Anglo-Saxon, and a second linked to the German tradition - very different from each other but both linked to Eostre, goddess of fertility. A goddess who in the seventh century the Anglo-Saxons represented in the form of a hare or wild rabbit, and from whose name it would later derive Easter Bunny, the Easter bunny in fact. The hare and the rabbit, particularly fertile animals that at the beginning of spring run wild in the meadows in amorous sarabands, omen of the rebirth of nature and of the regained fertility.