Although eggs do serve as a powerful symbol of new life and resurrection, the custom of decorating eggs at Easter has a more mundane, though quite interesting, origin. As eggs were a forbidden food during the forty days of Lenten fasting, eggs laid during these weeks either had to be hatched or kept for eating after Easter. To preserve the eggs, people dipped them in mutton fat or wax and decorated to make them more attractive. Poor people dyed their eggs red; noblemen gilded theirs or adorned them with their coats of arms. Plates of decorated eggs were brought to the parish priest on Easter morning. The priest sprinkled them with holy water and blessed them with a specific egg-blessing, thus releasing the worshippers from their Lenten privations. The decorated eggs were then given as gifts. Baskets of painted eggs were presented to the King of France after high Mass on Easter Sunday; he would distribute the eggs to his courtiers. Henry VIII once received a Paschal egg in a silver filigree box from the Pope. The largest egg laid in the vicinity of the palace during Holy Week was wrapped with a single red ribbon and presented to the king. The groups of youths would go from door to door in towns and villages singing and collecting eggs from their generous neighbors. They would use some of the eggs for rolling games and tosses; out of the rest they would make huge omelets which they would share to celebrate the end of the fast.
Hmm, an omelet is sounding pretty good right now. . . race you to the kitchen!
Best wishes for a happy and blessed Easter.
(Sources: A History of Food, M. Toussaint-Samat and A. Bell; The Antiquarian Magazine and Bibliographer, E. Walford; The Gift in Sixteenth Century France, Natalie Zemon Davis)