Turning Year: Easter gift is a symbol of new life

The egg is a symbol of new life.
The egg is a symbol of new life.

A glimpse of sun would be welcome on this holiday weekend, but if it’s not forthcoming we can always cheer ourselves with a chocolate egg or two.

Easter eggs come in so many guises that there’s one for every taste. Yet not so long ago every one was a hen’s egg, and decorating their shells was a northern passion.

One reason why eggs were popular at Easter was because there were lots of them. Hens didn’t stop laying because eggs couldn’t be eaten during Lent, so all those surplus eggs had to be hard-boiled or pickled and saved until the fast was over.

Eggs were coloured by hard-boiling them with natural plant dyes. Onionskins or gorse flowers gave yellow; spinach, green; tea, brown; and beetroot, pink. To produce delicate patterns, leaves or strips of lace were tied around the shells before boiling. More formal designs were marked out in candle wax.

Coloured eggs were given as presents, or kept for display in the home. Many met their end on Easter Monday, chased down hillsides by screaming youngsters.

Egg rolling took off around 1800. The custom was popular all over northern England, especially in the North York Moors where villages shelter in steep-sided valleys. The plan was to see whose egg could go furthest before disintegrating. Any eggs left in a reasonable state were eaten and their shells crushed, because witches might use the half shells to sail out to sea and call up a storm.

For some reason, most southern counties had lost their Easter egg customs by the 19th century.

The revival came with chocolate eggs, first made by European confectioners in the 1830s. The problem of making chocolate flow into moulds wasn’t cracked until much later – Cadbury made their first hollow eggs in 1875.

As those early eggs were all dark chocolate, the novelty of Dairy Milk caused sales to soar. That was in 1905, yet it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that chocolate eggs became a popular symbol of Easter.

However, this Christian festival has the Cross at its heart. The story of Holy Week is one of betrayal, and cruel death on Good Friday. Yet the Easter message is one of hope. Sunday is Easter Day, when Christians celebrate Christ’s Resurrection; the broken egg is said to represent the empty tomb.

On Easter Sunday people used to climb hills to watch the sun rise, because they believed that on this holy day the sun danced for joy. This year British Summer Time begins on Sunday – the clocks go forward one hour on Saturday night – so the sun is going to have a bit of a lie in.


The sunshine feels quite warm now, especially inland. Yet on the coast things have been very different with clouds, drizzle, and fog. Although we didn’t appreciate last week’s easterly airflow, folklore says those clouds had a silver lining: “east wind in spring a good summer will bring.”

That saying could be contradicted if we have rain on Good Friday and Easter Monday. Should that occur, the old lore predicts “a good year for grass and a bad year for hay,” in other words a wet summer. But it has to rain on both days.