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  • Ilinca Stroe

When the Easter Egg Teaches the Sapiens


Ready? Steady. Hold it right! You hold it honest! No cheating. Ready? Yup.

“Christ is risen!”

“He is risen indeed!”

CRACK!

Little did we Romanian children know that our Easter eggs, dyed by mother on Holy Thursday in the steamy kitchen where the roast lamb was in a very hot get-perfectly-cooked race against the cozonac [1], had come down through the mists of Time all the way from - where else? - Africa, cradle of all sapiens.

Back then and there, humans reportedly decorated ostrich eggs to celebrate the coming of spring. Other humans picked up the custom in the 4th-3rd century B.C. in Carthage, whence it bounced off to early Christian Mesopotamia [2], then next door to Persia, on to the Eastern Orthodox Church and still onwards to the Roman Catholics and Protestants throughout Europe, until in the early 1600s Pope Paul V took note of it: "Bless, O Lord! We beseech thee, this thy creature of eggs, that it may become a wholesome sustenance to thy faithful servants, eating it in thankfulness to thee on account of the resurrection of the Lord" [3].

Indeed, the symbolism of Easter eggs draws on core Christian beliefs as much as on crucial pagan meanings. Comparativists remind us that the egg stands for “germinal information in many mythologies” and it should be regarded as a Big Bang in a nutshell (well, eggshell) [4], hence cracking Easter eggs translates as a wish to break out into new life, a statement of renewal and rebirth. That interpretation is supported by how Christ is pictured, in Christian iconography across denominations, within an egg-shaped mandorla or aureola, especially in the scene where he descends to hell to pull Adam and Eve out of it, resurrect them and grant them new life.

While rebirth stands out as the significance of Easter eggs, their design has undergone amazing fine-art transformations over the centuries, ranging from the Mesopotamian children’s plain red dyed eggs (symbolising Christ’s blood during the Calvary on the cross) to fine wax coating and etching techniques [5], or quite sophisticated onion skin wrapping and patterning [6] in Romania, Norway, Lithuania, Greece, Ukraine, France, and so on. Design-wise, the best has arguably just come: the National History Museum of Romania (Bucharest, Calea Victoriei 12) is hosting a “historic eggbot” workshop on 12 April from 12 to 5 pm [7], with automated Easter egg etching just like in this demo:


Yet besides its spiritual and techno-artistic richness, the Easter egg tradition harbours another, less prominent but just as deep-reaching outlook: it teaches children essential character qualities and life skills. Easter “egg tapping” contests in England disallow clever cheating by kids who use eggs with cement or marble core. Egg hunts in Germany enable kids to hone their alertness and thriftiness as they fine-tune their sight to spot eggs hidden in the undergrowth outdoors and patiently collect them in baskets till the end of the hunt. And the US White House makes its South Lawn available for the Easter Egg Roll every year, showing young contestants who push their eggs through the grass with their spoons that even Presidents enjoy playing fair games.

Back to the steamy kitchen where the alchemy of Easter cooking yields our Romanian household’s dyed eggs, cracking the latter sometimes occasions little power games, with their consequences: you crack five eggs in a row, you show off loudly and you ignore the (exaggerated) warning that you’ll be left “empty-stomached” at the communal meal; you just put your champion egg aside, somewhere safe, so that nobody can steal it from you (just get out of bed to check repeatedly that it hasn’t been stolen overnight…). Some other times, however, you crack your sibling’s egg, having made sure they don’t use a wooden one, they don’t hold it at a slant, etc.,

“Christos a înviat!”

“Adevărat a-nviat!”

CRACK, I win. But come on, turn it upside down, let’s crack them again at the other end, maybe this time you win. After all, cracking Easter eggs may well be about the frank generosity of giving second chances - the kind of generosity that Christ undoubtedly was blessed with.

So have a blessed Easter! :)

[1] Sweet bread made in Romania on Easter and Christmas, similar to Italian panettone, with fillings ranging from ground walnut with raisins to ground poppy seeds with Turkish delight.

[2] A territory roughly covering today’s Iraq, Kuwait, eastern Syria and Turkey.

[3] Newall, Venetia. “Easter Eggs.” JSTOR. <https://www.jstor.org/stable/1259357?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents> Retrieved 9 Apr 2017.

[4] Vărzaru, Alex. “De ce spargem oua de Paste? Interviu cu istoricul Daniela Dumbrava.” Ziare.com, 20 Apr 2014. <http://www.ziare.com/social/sarbatoare/de-ce-spargem-oua-de-paste-interviu-cu-istoricul-daniela-dumbrava-1294738> Retrieved 9 Apr 2017.

[5] Bucurescu, Adrian. “Oul dogmatic.” România liberă, 16 Apr 2009. <http://www.romanialibera.ro/aldine/history/oul-dogmatic-151649> Retrieved 9 Apr 2017.

[6] “Easter Egg.” Wikipedia. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_egg> Retrieved 9 Apr 2017.

[7] See <http://www.mnir.ro/index.php/atelier-de-paste-eggbots-istorice/>

Images` sources:

1. By ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26070591

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_egg#/media/File:Oeufs.jpg

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