Why are Pascha eggs red? The truth is that nobody knows for sure. They just are.
But if you don’t like that answer, there are plenty of others!
Mary Magdalene and the Emperor Tiberius
My favorite story is that, when Mary Magdalene went to Rome, she arranged an audience with the Emperor Tiberius. As she spoke about Jesus, about his death and resurrection, she picked up an egg from the table. Perhaps she used it to illustrate the stone that had sealed the tomb. Perhaps she was just fidgeting with it. Whatever the reason, she was holding the egg and telling Tiberius about the Resurrection. And at that point, Tiberius had had enough: “A man can’t come back from the dead any more than that egg in your hand can change from white to red!” And as he spoke those words, the egg in Mary’s hand changed from white to red. Mary held the egg up for all to see, saying, “Christ is risen from the dead!” And so, in honor of her, and in honor of the Resurrection, Christians have dyed eggs red at Pascha ever since. So that’s one story.
The doubting woman
According to another story, one of the women disciples, like Thomas, didn’t believe it when she was told that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Thomas said, “I won’t believe it unless I can touch the wounds on his hands and put my hand into his side.” The woman said, “I won’t believe it unless all the eggs in this basket turn red.” And, in that story, all the eggs turned red.
The history of Pascha eggs
It appears, from historical sources, that eggs were first dyed red at Pascha by Christians in Mesopotamia, perhaps as early as the second or third century. From there, the tradition spread to Greece and then throughout the Christian world.
At that time, Ukraine already had a strong and ancient tradition of making intricately decorated eggs, called pysanky. When the tradition of making red eggs for Pascha arrived in Ukraine, people did not quit making pysanky. Instead, they adapted their existing customs into the celebration of Pascha.
Making Pascha eggs
Pascha baskets: Why do we have them? What goes in them? How did they turn into Easter baskets for children?
Make red eggs using onion skins: Make beautiful deep red eggs using a natural red dye made from onion skins. Here’s how.