It’s not uncommon for foods to be associated with festivities and the culinary indeed makes for a great chunk of the celebrations anywhere in the world. Be it religious, spiritual, cultural or just about any basis on which festivals come to be, food has been an integral part of festivals. Not just however in the gastronomic element of it but also in their associated significance, certain foods enjoy a distinctive presence, sometimes traditional, sometimes in more modern leanings, within the spectrum of the celebration they have come to be characterising of. One such rather celebrated of traditions that come to the fore every spring in their essentially religious association is the synonymous muttering of Easter and eggs. As the most significant of all Christmas festivals, surpassing even the ever so popular yuletide of the Christmas cheer, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and presents itself as a day when all Christians spend time at church in thought, prayer and celebration of Jesus Christ’s life even as food and feasts take centerstage during the latter part of the festivities.
How eggs came to be associated with Christmas is a tale rooted in long drawn traditions of the past. But more than its essence as a food, eggs came to sum up the collective spirit of Easter in other notions as well, that which includes the spiritual. As such customs of egg rolling, egg tapping, pace egging, cascarones or confetti eggs, and egg decorating have continued to mark Easter celebrations over the years, Easter eggs have acquired a ‘market’ of their own even when they dawned indeed as celebrations embedded in metaphorical significance. An ancient symbol of new life and rebirth, the egg found incorporation in Easter custom with the early Christian community of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at his crucifixion. Deriving perhaps from the Jewish tradition of a white hard boiled egg being a part of the Passover seder plate, Easter Eggs differed to be traditionally red. As therefore a symbol of the empty tomb from which Jesus is believed to have resurrected, and which in itself is an Easter tradition, the egg bears an importance in this annual celebration by the Christians that is all the more revered and indispensible. Modern day versions of the Easter egg however also are as important elements of such aspects of the festivities that involve the gastronomic, with chocolate eggs the most commonly understood interpretation of this essential custom. Hand carved wooden eggs or plastic ones filled with confectionery or chocolate are also other popular versions that endows an image more celebratory to this quintessential Easter staple, while preserving its standing in the spiritual essence of it.
Believed to have spread from Mesopotamia into Eastern Europe and Siberia through the Orthodox Churches, and later into Europe through the Catholic and Protestant Churches when the churches adopted it as part of the Roman ritual, the history of origin of Easter Eggs remain shrouded in some ambiguity. A parallel theory attributes the custom to have arisen in western Europe during the Middle Ages as a result of the fact that Western Christians were prohibited from eating eggs during the period of Lent, that commences immediately from the day after Shrove Tuesday, but were allowed to eat them when Easter arrived. As such, all eggs that were laid during that period of abstinence were instead decorated to make them Holy Week eggs, that later became gifted out to children as treats. In the years that followed and dawning into the modern times, eggs have maintained their importance as being intricately related with Easter with different countries and different cultures around the world adhering to their own version of the Easter Eggs that stand out anyway with their pretty and painted, colored faces.
Despite the intricate linking of Easter with eggs however, the custom of painting eggs is not exclusive to it, predated in fact by cultural practices in the ancient past, that which might have ultimately come to influence the religion of Christianity, presumably by making inroads culturally. Throughout the world today, the tradition persists in varying impressions of the aesthetic, with the same symbolism, but adhered to somewhat differently as per continuing traditions and beliefs. Let’s take a look at how the custom of decorating Easter Eggs span out in different countries of the world-
Croatia’s tradition of decorating Easter eggs in bright colors derives from an old Slavic custom that dates back to the Pagan times. Generally gifted to young children but also often to significant others, pisanica eggs are remarkable in that they are painted by using natural dyes, usually beet and such other vegetables that dwell therefore on also the symbolic significance of red as the primary Easter color. Decorated commonly with such symbols as doves, crosses, flowers and other traditional designs, pisanica eggs however most commonly carry the message “Sretan Uskrs” or Happy Easter even as other slogans wishing health and happiness can also be written on them.
The parallel of Easter Eggs in Mexico, Cascarones however are typically part of the Carnival celebrations of the country but has come to be also associated with the Easter tradition. Hollowed out eggs, painted and decorated before being filled with confetti or small toys, cascarones though originated in China before it spread to Spain and only thereafter to Mexico. Whatever and wherever they might have arisen from, these confetti filled shells of prettiness are customarily cracked over people’s heads as a means of ushering in good luck.
Kokkina avga, Greece
Greeks continue with the traditional ‘mandate’ of painting their Easter Eggs a bright red which endow also these eggs with a different name altogether. Known as Kokkina avga, the eggs are traditionally dyed with onion skins and vinegar on the day of Communion and are also used to decorate the traditional Greek Easter sweet bread known as tsoureki. Beyond their deeming as food and decoration, the Easter Eggs are also significant in the country in that the first of the dyed eggs used to be placed at the iconostsis of homes in the hope that they will ward off all evil.
Kraslice eggs, Czech Republic
A sophisticated version of the Easter Eggs stems from the folds of the cultural that characterise the Czech Republic. Ornate, hand painted eggs that make use of permanent dyes and wax, this is one of the dramatically different varieties of the eggs that have so come to characterise the modern Easter celebrations. Wax is applied to the shell and peeled off after the egg is dipped in dye to create the desired pattern. Though not stemming directly as a custom of Christianity but dwelling again in paganic roots, this Czech art of decorating eggs can be a really elaborate affair with several dyeing stages involved, each of which uses different shades to enable the addition of more detail. Beyond dyeing, another traditional technique involves wrapping neatly latticed wire around hollowed out eggs but it is the universal appeal of the dye that rules the roost when it comes to these Easter specific decorations.
The traditional way to do up the Easter eggs Ukrainian style results in a yield of bright and vividly painted eggs that standout from their counterparts across the world. A specific wax- resist method- the written-wax batik method is what is employed to decorate eggs with traditional Ukrainian folk designs, even as variations exist in regions within the country. Typically gifted as a symbol of life itself, pysankas, or what is known as pisanka in Poland, bear also cultural significance in Ukraine being an expression of the country’s folk art as well, with even a museum dedicated to them, in fact so exclusive to the pysanka egg that it is in fact shaped and painted like one!
Easter Eggs or Osterei of Germany make for quite interesting an element of the celebrations, not only in the manner of their painting but also in how they are used for decoration. Blowing eggs and painting them in multiple colours and patterns is an activity that commences on Good Friday itself, two days before Easter. Handed out as gifts like in many other parts of the world, the Easter eggs however also finds their way on Easter egg trees or the Ostereierbaum, that originated in Germany. Hung on branches of outdoor trees and bushes and on cut branches inside, Easter Eggs are nothing less than a phenomenon throughout Germany that which has also granted the country its own exclusive museum dedicated to them, much like what Ukraine has.
Washi eggs, Japan
Even distinctive are the Easter Eggs of Japan that make use of washi paper as the means of their decoration. Distinctive in its stripes as much in its papered confines, hollowed out Washi eggs features colorful, intricate designs and often incorporates flowers, birds, and other traditional Japanese imagery making for an exclusively ornamental species of the Easter favorites.
Vekonocne vajicko, Slovenia
Another country that goes the all- natural way in painting their Easter eggs is Slovenia where the method of dying them involves securing plant sprigs or flowers to an egg with a tin net and then boiling them with onion skins to yield authentic red Easter eggs with a floral motif.
Fabergé eggs, Russia
A jeweled egg that was made as Easter gifts for the wives and mothers of Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II, these really Imperial Easter Eggs were created by the jewelry firm House of Fabergé for the Russian royal family between 1885 and 1916. And while the exquisitely bejeweled premises of these eggs crafted by master jewelers might render them more exclusive than commonplace enough to be a mass tradition, these eggs still have managed to hold their precious worth within the realm of what has always been the shining jewels of Easter.
Pace Eggs, England
A special type of Easter Egg hailing from the northern reaches of England are pace eggs that are the most essential part of the Easter custom of pace egg plays. A tradition continuing from centuries past, the pace eggs were made by wrapping them in onion skins and boiling them to make their shells look like mottled gold, or wrapped in flowers and leaves first in order to leave a pattern, a custom also practised in traditional Scandinavian culture. Deriving their name from Pâques, that which is the French word for Easter, pace eggs could also be made by drawing on with a wax candle before staining, often with a person’s name and date on the egg. In their use as edible Easter treats or as Easter decorations as well as within the sphere of traditional Easter customs, these hard boiled, naturally decorated eggs today are more often painted, even as eggs stained with coffee grains have also emerged to be convenient Easter options.