What Came First, Easter or the Egg?

Easter is fast approaching which means it's almost time for my daughter to destroy our kitchen with a potent combination of water, vinegar, and food coloring (my husband despises hard boiled eggs and is pretty anti vinegar-smell, so this is a mother-daughter bonding experience).

But what is the story behind this beautiful (when other people do it) culinary-meets-design tradition? The not so satisfying truth is that no one knows for sure. Some of the theories out there include the evolution of pagan festivals, a sassy exchange between Mary Magdalene and the Roman Emperor Tiberius, and the early Christians of Mesopotamia who stained eggs red because, you know, Jesus blood (mental floss).

Though these theories are interesting, what really stokes my curiosity is who the devil witnessed a chicken lay an egg and thought to himself, "Aha! Just the tiny canvas I've been searching for!" Well, according to the aptly named website and the notorious, online rabbit hole Wikipedia (perhaps you've heard of it), the art of egg decoration goes back too far to peg on just one person. Super helpful guys. To be fair, though, the sites did point me in the direction of the University of Cambridge's delightfully named Egg Cetera research project.

Apparently, a team of archaeologists from the Universities of Cambridge and Toronto wanted to know how hunter-gatherers survived for thousands of years in the arid regions of southern Africa without modern conveniences like those snazzy Camelback water bottle/backpack hybrids, and their findings are BANANAS!

Turns out, my research premise was all wrong. Surprise! Rather than think "Aha! Tiny canvas," southern African hunter-gatherers (such as the Kalahari Bushmen) saw some ill-tempered, incredibly fast and impressively strong devil birds, I mean Ostriches, and had a eureka moment. I assume it went a little something like this- "hey guys, I have a brilliant idea. No, not like the last one, and, to be fair, his hair grew back thicker than ever, so you should really stop dwelling on it. Anyway, this idea-very low risk, high reward. Trust me. You know those giant devil birds who aren't too fond of us? Well, they lay giant eggs, and I'm positive that if we can get our hands on some, they will make the perfect water bottle!"

Turns out, this was actually a really good idea. Due to their size, sturdiness and breathability Ostrich eggs make superb water flasks, and Cambridge's intrepid archaeologists excavated hundreds of pieces of ostrich eggshell some of which were over 60,000 years old. What's more, stores of whole ostrich egg flasks equipped with grass and beeswax stoppers have also been found. Some of these flasks were decorated with patterns made by paint or engraving in order to denote ownership and who knows what all else- probably some super meaningful self-expression.

Though the exact history of how decorated eggs came to denote Easter is debatable, there is a better than good chance these early ostrich egg water flasks are among the first instances of decorated eggs, and the practice evolved, for whatever reasons, into the cute and stylish eggs you see below.

All photos from Pinterest. See Ruie + Grace's Pinterest boards for origins.