My Dad, gone eleven years now, would have been 82 last week. His parents were both ethnic Greeks from Turkey, having left in the diaspora written about in Egugenides Middlesex. My mom was Italian-American of northern Italian parents who left for the golden streets of America. Gross simplification of the facts there, but to be honest, there is no complicated story because we were never told the real tales. I did not even know my “Greek” grandparents were technically “Turks” until my mid-thirties: it is not a good thing to be at all Turkish when your father is Greek-Orthodox. Like a line extending up from Greece to the Artic reaches, many of these traditions overlap with former Soviet-block /Iron Curtain countries.
So, although this year Easter for Western and Eastern traditions fall on the same day, we usually had Easter twice. For me, Easter was largely about candy, and hardboiled eggs. We dyed our eggs for Greek Easter with Rit Dye Cardinal Red, although our Armenian friends achieved a deep red with red onion skins. I guess my family believed in better living through chemistry. On Greek Easter we would get together with all my Dad’s side of the family. Greek family get-togethers have a sense memory of their own that I can almost taste. We always had Lamb, if it was at my Aunt’s house it had been roasted into texture of stale, old jujubes. My Mother’s was better; in fact she was better at the Greek dishes than most of my Greek relatives — I guess she had something to prove.
left: Viktar Pałściuk http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Belarusian_Easter_Eggs.jpg
below: Walter J. Pilsak, Waldsassen http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eierhaerten.jpg
But ever present were the red eggs. Minus the lovely designs our eggs were somewhat brighter than these Belarusian examples. God, we ate so many eggs we must have set off sulphur alarms the next day. After our huge meal, we would all take our eggs and do the tapping game (read more about this at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_tapping). Whoever had the egg which remained intact went on to the next person but it has been a long time since I sat around the table with my Greek cousins (too many named Peter). It was thrilling in the pre-video game days. I was surprised, later, to find that this was a common game to play across many cultures.
Like these at left I found on http://www.chiff.com/a/easter-greece.htm, ours were often baked into our Greek Easter bread. The bread contained a pine flavor from a pine gum we called mastica. I have theorized it has a wheat strengthening property because the bread had a somewhat cake-like consistency. It may be that Greek wheat was softer than our own hard red wheat here in the States.
My father, who was very religious, told us that there were many layers to the egg’s symbolism:
- The egg represented the stone that was in front of Christ’s tomb
- It was, being the source of new life a [unfertilized and cooked] symbol of the same. In Greek class I learned that the Greek word for “egg” was a masculine noun. Go figure. But, can you imagine before there was an understanding of fertility how magical it must have been to see a chick or other animal hatch out of an unbroken sphere?
- It also represented the body in the tomb (the yolk entombed in the white).
- It also represented a great source of healthy nutrition and was prohibited during Lent.
So, like many symbols and festivals, those associated with non-Christian practices were co-opted by the Church and prior meanings were buried or at best supressed. Maybe prior practices also allowed people to keep some of their practices and beliefs without risking the noose as early Christianity was somewhat brutal.
For example, “She was dying eggs to use in unholy rites.” “No, I was dying eggs to celebrate the rebirth of Christ!”
Our eggs were red because, the sun was red at dawn and (new) Easter represented a new dawn for humanity, and (old) Spring a new dawn for the earth. Red was the color of (new) Christ’s blood, Passover blood (Old Testament), the blood of the woman giving birth (old). Also, for us, living in Upstate New York, Easter was rarely snow free, so any color, especially red, was delightful.
From About.com “Red eggs (in Greek: kokkina avga, κόκκινα αυγά, pronounced KOH-kee-nah ahv-GHAH) are perhaps the brightest symbol of Greek Easter, representing the blood of Christ and rebirth.” http://greekfood.about.com/od/greekcookingtips/ht/redeggs.htm. They were certainly pretty too look at out Cardinal Red Eggs but heavens alone know what the red dye did to our bodies. The above citation also tells us how to dye eggs naturally, using onion skins.
Also, a friend and blog follower shared this with me: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/notes.php?id=172419479791 . This is an excellent account of the symbolism of Eggs across time and traditions.
Is birth any less amazing and miraculous now that we know some of the mysteries behind the emergence of the chick, the egg, the babe from the womb or the blades of grass from the ground?
I think that the paranormal, lives in this mystery which even as we learn how it works, becomes more mysterious as it hangs onto the most important secret and truth – what animates the egg, whence the spark of life?