One such version, which has been disseminated over the centuries, is that Mary Magdalene would have gone before Sunday dawn to the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth – crucified on Friday – carrying material to anoint his body with. Upon arriving at the site, he would have seen the grave ajar.
One coelho, who would have been trapped in the tomb opened in the rock, would be the first living being to witness the resurrection of Jesus. For this reason, he won the privilege of announcing the good news to children all over the world on Easter morning. He is, therefore, the supposed bearer of the chocolate egg.
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O this, in turn, is a symbol of life and rebirth. Ancient peoples, like the Romans, propagated the idea that the Universe would have the suggestive oval shape. In the Middle Ages, there were those who believed that the world would have appeared inside the shell of an egg.
Soon, the habit of giving each other chicken eggs was established. Some historians speculate that this tradition would have arisen among the Persians. Others attribute their origin to the Chinese.
“Many centuries before the birth of Christ, the exchange of eggs at the spring equinox, celebrated on March 21 in the northern hemisphere, was a custom that celebrated the end of winter”, explains Monsignor André Sampaio Oliveira, doctor in Canon Law .
“When the Christian Easter began to be celebrated, the pagan rite of celebrating spring was integrated into Holy Week. Christians then began to see the egg as a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection.”
In Germany, eggs are hung on tree branches, as if they were Christmas balls – Photo: EPA via BBC
It was a matter of time before the gifted eggs were to be ornamented. In the Middle Ages, chicken egg shells were hand painted.
“In Germany, colored eggs are hung on the branches of trees, as if they were Christmas balls. In Russia, they are placed in the graves as a tribute to those who are already gone. In Italy, the tables of the Easter supper are decorated with colored eggs” , exemplifies the writer and researcher Evaristo Eduardo de Miranda, author of the book Guia de Curiosidades Católicas.
Russian tsars have taken the habit of giving eggs as gifts to a new level. Between 1885 and 1916, 50 eggs were ordered from Peter Carl Fabergé, a famous Russian jeweler, by the Tsars Alexander 3rd and Nicholas 2nd.
One of them, given as a gift by Alexandre 3rd to his wife, Empress Marie Feodorovna, had a watch set with sapphires and diamonds inside. In April 2014, the 8.2 cm high treat was valued at $ 20 million.
Between 1885 and 1916, 50 eggs were ordered from jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé by Russian tsars – Photo: Getty Images via BBC
Around the 18th century, French confectioners decided to try a new preparation technique: how about emptying the eggs and stuffing them with chocolate? A century later, eggs were made of chocolate and filled with chocolates. The gastronomic invention was approved even by those who do not see any religious significance in eggs and rabbits.
This is the case of Rabbi Michel Schlesinger, of the Israelite Confederation of Brazil (Conib). “Jewish children who receive Easter eggs as a gift are very happy and do not refuse them at all,” the rabbi makes fun of.
“I imagine that Christian children who try matzo (unleavened bread) with chocolate or curd will also like it,” he suggests.
Since ancient Egypt, the rabbit was already synonymous with fertility – Photo: Getty Images via BBC
But what about the rabbit? If the animal, like most mammals, does not lay eggs, why, then, has it consolidated itself as a symbol of the greatest Christian festival?
Since ancient Egypt, the friendly rodent was already synonymous with fertility. On average, they can breed chicks 4 to 8 times a year, 8 to 10 bunnies per litter.
Over time, the rabbit has also become a symbol of rebirth, as it is the first animal to leave the den after winter. “The hare has even been associated with Christ in Christian iconography, with big ears to better hear the word of God”, observes researcher Evaristo de Miranda.
In Brazil, the custom of associating it with Jesus’ resurrection began in the 1910s. At that time, German immigrants painted eggs by hand and hid them around the house for the children to find.
“In the historical perspective, it is not possible to specify the origin of the rabbit and Easter eggs. At most, it is possible to know that there is not a single version, but several, all valid, narrated by the most different peoples and cultures”, explains the doctoral student in History from the University of Campinas (Unicamp) Jefferson Ramalho.
“For us, historians, the most important thing is not to identify the ‘true story’, but to decipher the meanings attributed to these symbols and the ideas they seek to convey”, he adds.
For the Catholic Church, the true symbol of Easter is the Easter candle, a large white candle that symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus. On it are inscribed the letters alpha and omega, the first and the last of the Greek alphabet, indicating that the son of God is the beginning and the end.
“The greatest symbol of Easter is the light of Christ. The light of Easter Sunday is opposed to the darkness of Passion Friday. What was pain and sadness is transformed into strength and joy”, says theologian Isidoro Mazzarolo, from PUC-Rio.
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