These are decorated eggs often given to celebrate Easter or springtime. The oldest tradition is to use hard-boiled chicken eggs, dyed or painted, but a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs or plastic eggs filled with candy. Eggs are a traditional symbol of fertility and rebirth, which of course ties in with it being spring.
However, there’s a modern definition for Easter egg: a hidden item placed in a movie or other visual media, as a hidden surprise or an in-joke. Though popular in the digital world, this idea does date back to the last Russian imperial family, who gifted people with jewel-encrusted Fabergé eggs, which had more surprises tucked away inside.
The modern secret Easter egg can be found in everything from software like video games to hardware where designers will include graphics and messages. The history apparently originates with the 1975 movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when the cast had an Easter Egg hunt but most of the eggs went unfound. They can be seen throughout the film in various locations, such as under Frank N. Furter’s throne. The framed picture of Julia Roberts inside the character’s home was an Easter egg inserted by the director.
Another early Easter egg appeared in the Atari video game, Adventure, planted there by computer game developer Warren Robinett. It wasn’t fancy, just a hidden object planted in the game that led to a screen that said, “Created by Warren Robinett.” Back then, Atari didn’t give credit to its designers in the games themselves. So Robinett took a little hacky initiative. It was supposedly Atari that first used the term Easter egg to describe Robinett’s secret addition to the game.
Hidden messages in media predate the digital age by many, many years. New Yorker cartoonist Al Hirschfeld hid the name of his daughter Nina in everything he drew. A modern, non-digital example is the appearance of hidden Mickeys throughout Disney’s parks and resorts.
Some of the most popular Easter eggs were games hidden in software designed for less-entertaining purposes. Microsoft Office developers working on Excel 97 included a full-on flight simulator. But you had to know how to access it because there was no way you could accidentally stumble across it.
As a company pledged to not being evil, Google has been pulling fun pranks and hiding Easter eggs on its pages since its inception. One of the first to spread across the internet was discovered shortly after Google Maps was introduced. It also provided excellent directions, even if you asked it to plan a route from New York to Paris. When you inevitably ran out of roads and reached the coast, it simply instructed users to “Swim across the Atlantic Ocean.” One of Google’s many Easter eggs even causes snow to fall on your search results.
It’s a relief to know Google never rains on your parade, it just snows on it!