Happy Easter from Windows into History! The following quote is taken from A Country Book: for the field, the forest, and the fireside by William Howitt, published in 1859. You can find other quotes from this book in Snippets 38 and 51. It is an interesting little discussion of the Easter egg tradition in Germany, France and Britain, in the 19th Century.
In Germany, for some days before Easter, the market appears full of hard-boiled eggs, deeply dyed with bright colours. These are laid with little sugar hares in the gardens on Easter-Eve, towards dusk, amongst the grass and bushes; and the children are told that on this night the hares lay eggs, and they are up early in the morning to look for them. It is one of their most favourite fictions.
Father, mother, and all the elder brothers and sisters are as busily concerned about these hares’ eggs and sugar hares, as about their Christmas Christ-child and his gifts; and go out and rejoice in the surprise of the children, as they discover these many-coloured eggs, as much as the children themselves. In many places the poor children go round and beg these eggs, lay them upon green leaves in a basket of field flowers, and at evening roast and eat them.
In France the custom is much the same. The market is filled in the week preceding Easter with the boiled eggs, dyed dark red, or violet colour, and the children amuse themselves with them, and then eat them. Throughout the country of Bonneval on the day preceding Easter Sunday, and during the first days of that week, the clerks of the different parishes, beadles, and certain artisans, go about from house to house to ask for their eggs. The children in different parts of the Continent make feasts of these red eggs. The Egyptians used to dye them red, because they said the world was on fire at this time. The Christians continued the colour in memory of the blood of the Saviour shed for them on the cross.
In England, in the more rural districts, these eggs, now corrupted from Paschal, pasch, to pace-eggs, are still to be seen at Easter; and in Lancashire you may hear under your windows the clatter of the wooden shoes of the children early on Easter Monday morning, who are running to and fro to beg their pace-eggs.
Such is one of a dozen or more singular observations at Easter, all ancient, but this the most ancient of all. Few, indeed, who see or handle a particoloured pace-egg, reflect that it dates its history from the Flood!
The practice of decorating eggs is indeed an ancient custom. 60,000 year old ostrich shell fragments with engravings have been found in Africa. In fact, some may even be as old as 90,000 years. The shells were used to carry water. An interesting article on the subject can be found on the University of Cambridge website, at the following link: Egg Cetera #6