Many cultures around the world hold the belief that the egg is both a sign of new life and rebirth. In fact, the ancient Persians, Hindus, Egyptians, and Phoenicians all were of the belief that the world and life itself began with a giant egg. The history of the Easter egg goes back a very long way. In 3000 B.C. Persia, eggs were dyed red and handed out as part of a celebration for the beginning of spring. There have been notations that Edward I, King of England from 1272 until 1307, paid to have over 400 eggs colored and gold-leafed to be used as Easter gifts in at least one year. Over five centuries ago a book was written which used the terminology describing this particular types of egg as an Easter egg.
Following Christianity, people traditionally refrained from eating meat and eggs during Lent, the season before Easter. In order to preserve the eggs, they were boiled and saved until the holiday. After the 40 days of the Lenten season, it was the first chance and a special treat to be able to have eggs and meat after the long spell of abstinence. Contests where eggs are rolled are thought to be symbolic of when the stone was rolled away from Christ’s tomb. In Europe, pace-egging is still sometimes followed. This is when the children go from house to house asking for eggs, such as trick-or-treaters do on Halloween.
In history, one of the reasons that the Easter egg started getting colored was to enhance their value. In Christianity, one of the most used colors is red. The color red symbolizes the blood of the martyrs and of Jesus Christ. Another popular color used is purple, not only the color of royalty but also the color of suffering. While black denotes the darkness of sin and mourning, white is a symbol of purity and resurrection. Gold is not only the color of wealth but also symbolizes the presence of God to those of faith.
Eggs are not only colored with dyes but have been decorated in other manners as well. A process known as etching can be traced back to Macedonia wherein the eggs are colorfully dyed before a wax design is applied. After the wax application the rest of the color is bleached off. This leaves only the colorful design where the wax was placed. Ukrainian Easter eggs are known as pysansky while Polish ones are known as pisanka. These are decorated with intricate folk designs written on the eggs with wax. Another form of decorating is called drapanki. Drapanki is done by again first dyeing the egg with a solid color before revealing the white shell by using a sharp object to scratch the surface in an intricate design. Something akin to sgraffitto is done to eggs which is called pacenka. This is a technique in which the wax is applied to the entire surface of the egg before a pattern is scratched into the wax. Once the pattern is formed, the egg is submerged into a dye. Only the portions of the eggshell which are no longer covered in wax retain color and so, in this way, the patterns are formed.
While these are some of the most common forms of egg decorating, there are others. The decorating of eggs, especially for Easter, has a long and varied history. Today, decorating an Easter egg is done many times with commercially purchased kits which include the dye and sometimes stickers, wax sticks, or glitter. Decorating eggs has become a holiday tradition for many families and in many instances the Easter holiday would not be complete with this activity.
By Dee Mueller
on twitter @TuesdayDG