Colorful Easter eggs are an icon this time of year. They are found in Easter baskets, Easter decorations, and on the table, ready to be eaten. But colored Easter eggs are a fairly new phenomenon.

While eggs are a traditional Easter symbol of birth and rebirth, colored eggs only popped onto the Easter scene in the 19th century when a folktale appeared in the United States during the Civil War. This tale is actually a poem that tells the story of a bird living in a tree outside of the tomb where Jesus had been buried. As the bird, in her nest was protecting her white eggs, she watched while Jesus’s body was anointed with oil, wrapped in linens, and placed in the tomb. As she witnessed this sad scene, she began to sing a song filled with grief and sorrow. This bird sang her mournful song for three days until an angel appeared and opened the tomb.

When the resurrected Jesus left the tomb, arisen from the dead, the bird was so happy, she began to sing a song of joy and wonder. Jesus smiled and blessed the bird, along with her eggs and her nest. At this moment, all of her eggs changed colors to remind the world of the miracle of Easter Day.

From my research, it appears that this poem first appeared in an Ohio newspaper in 1863, and many people believe that this is the beginning of the tradition of coloring Easter eggs.

Here is the lovely poem, written by Fitzjames O’Brien. (This poem is in the Public Domain and is sourced on WikiSource.) This poem also appears on pages 34-35 in the book A la California: Sketches of Life in the Golden State, by Albert S. Evans, published in 1873 by A.L. Bancroft & Company, San Francisco, CA.

“Now, close by the tomb, a fair tree grew, 
With pendulous leaves and blossoms of blue; 
And deep in the green tree’s shadowy breast 
A beautiful singing-bird on her nest, 
Which was bordered with mosses like malachite 
And held four eggs of an ivory white. 

“Now, when the bird from her dim recess 
Beheld the Lord in his burial dress, 
And looked on the heavenly face so pale, 
And the dear feet pierced with the cruel nail, 
Her heart now broke with a sudden pang 
And out of the depth of her sorrow she sang. 

“All night long, till the moon was up, 
She sat and sang in her moss-wreathed cup 
A song of sorrow, as wild and shrill 
As the homeless wind when it ioams the hill; 
So full of tears, so loud and long, 
That the grief of the world seemed turned to song. 

“But soon there came, through the weeping night, 
A glimmering angel clothed in white; 
And he rolled the stone from the tomb away, 
Where the Lord of the earth and the heavens lay; 
And Christ arose in the cavern’s gloom, 
And in living lustre came from the tomb. 

“Now the bird that sat in the heart of the tree 
Beheld the celestial mystery, 
And its heart was filled with a sweet delight, 
And it poured a song on the throbbing night; 
Notes climbing notes, still higher, higher, 
They shoot to heaven like spears of fire. 

“When the glittering, white-robed angel heard 
The sorrowing song of that grieving bird, 
And heard the following chant of mirth, 
That hailed Christ, risen from the earth, 
He said, ‘Sweet bird, be forever blest; 
Thyself, thy eggs, and thy moss-wreathed nest.’ 

“And ever, my child, since that blessed night, 
When death bowed down to the Lord of light,

The eggs of that sweet bird change their hue,

and burn with red, and gold, and blue;

Reminding mankind, in their simple way,

Of the holy marvel of Easter-day

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