This Easter, millions of kids around the world will go on an Easter Egg Hunt and have a ball doing it. My chickens recently taught me why.
Exactly forty-six days before Easter Sunday, devout Christians embark on Lent – a period of religious penance that traditionally includes abstinence from eating rich foods including meat, butter, and (crucially for the Egg Hunt)… eggs.
Fasting commences on ‘Ash Wednesday’ – the day before Ash Wednesday is hence a good day to finish your butter, eggs and rich foods that wouldn’t keep for the coming 6 weeks of Lent.
This Tuesday is known as ‘Fat Tuesday’, or translated in French: Mardi (Tuesday) Gras (Fat) – a day for feasting on rich foods and farewelling the eating of meat – in Latin carne (flesh) vale (farewell). Pancakes are a good thing to cook with butter and eggs – why the day is known as ‘Pancake Tuesday’ in many parts of the world.
But for the Egg Hunt – for six weeks before Easter, no-one is collecting eggs from their chooks. Meaning that come Easter Sunday, there’s a billion chook eggs and bird eggs all through your garden, which, back in the day, would have been super fun to collect.
The chocolate-egg version will elicit the same delight this coming Easter…
It’s interesting to wonder a little further…
Originally named after Ēostre, a Pagan Germanic goddess, the root of the word ‘Easter’ derives from the Proto-Germanic word for dawn: austrōn.
Easter occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox (of the Northern Hemisphere). A time when spring is in full swing – the sap is returning to the trees, lambs are being born, and life is bursting from the seams after the greyness of winter.
Spring festivals are gorgeous celebrations, but would often be preceded by long months of winter where families would be approaching the ends of their stored provisions. Balancing this hunger would also be a need to let some of the eggs hatch into chicks for the start of spring. The introduction of a formal month of fasting such as Lent might have given religious support to abstinence in this otherwise difficult period of restraint.
Perhaps it was the first pre-spring-festival fasting period that saw the first Egg Hunt…