Egg trees are a dismal failure when compared to Christmas trees

Sunday, April 17th, 2022

In the era before plastic eggs, many Americans carefully emptied whole eggs of their contents and colored them brightly for Easter, occasionally hanging them on tree branches with scraps of ribbon or thread:

In 1890s New York, it was even something of a craze. But despite brief bursts of popularity, Kaufman writes, today “egg trees are a dismal failure when compared to Christmas trees, found only in a few public fora and very scattered homes.”

Much like the Christmas tree, the custom likely came to the United States with German immigrants, entrenching itself among the Pennsylvania Dutch. (Although the Easter egg tree is typically a bare-branched tree hung with eggs, rather than an evergreen.) Across parts of Pennsylvania and Appalachia, Kaufman writes, women considered egg trees a type of good-luck charm, especially when it came to fertility.

Easter Egg Tree in Saalfeld, Germany

The Easter tree achieved more widespread popularity in 1950, after Katherine Milhous, an American author, published the Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book The Egg Tree. Pennsylvania Dutch scholar Alfred Lewis Shoemaker credited The Egg Tree with a “nationwide acceptance, overnight, of the custom of decorating a tree with colored eggs at Easter.” Milhous herself prepped and painted 600 eggs for the New York Public Library’s Easter tree that same year. But Shoemaker spoke too soon. The tradition slowly faded in New York, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art only discontinuing its yearly Easter egg tree in the 1980s. Hollowing out fragile eggs and hanging them on trees, Kaufman writes, seemed unable to compete with the relative ease of simply placing eggs in a basket.


  1. Douglas2 says:

    One of my years of elementary school we did an art project of emptying and cleaning eggshells while keeping them intact, so that we were left with a non-perishable ‘canvas’ for our egg-art ornament project.

    I recently was introduced by a friend to Ukrainian heat-shrink “traditional” pattern egg-wraps — you can come up with something a little less gleamy than a Fabergé egg, but still quite beautiful. I know that they’re meant to be ephemeral, but I’d want to use them on eggs that I can leave in a box in the attic to bring out year after year.

    (for reference:

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