So, I just had my first Greek Orthodox Easter.
Greek Easter and Greek Christmas are the two most significant festivals in Greece. They say Christmas is a happy holiday, while Easter is a sadder one. Yet, the events are so big in scale that even have overshadowed the birth of Christ.
The celebrations vary across the whole Hellenic territory. Different villages, different cities, and islands would have their own ways of celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Yet, regardless which part of Greece you are at, you would also find this one common element: red Easter eggs.
I headed from Athens to the Trikeri village on Friday morning. When I was in a local supermarket on Thursday, I saw a mountain of red Easter eggs!
I was thrilled, because I have not seen this since my brother’s birth in 1994 (read on, and I will explain why). And I was overjoyed then to help my parents color the eggs, as if that was my only mission of the day!
Back in the old times, villages would have priests, or families do the coloring themselves. Today, thank you (or not) to the supermarket, we could save some efforts on this! Either homemade, or buying it out of convenience, the eggs would need to be ready—boiled, colored, and arranged for display on Thursday before Easter.
Origin and folklore
The real origin is already lost to the sand of time. Yet, all versions trace back to the moment Mary Magdalene found out Christ has risen from death and her efforts on spreading the gospel. I was able to locate in total of three versions of the origin:
- Mary Magdalene brought hard-boiled eggs to share with other women at the tomb of Jesus. The eggs were miraculously turned into red when she saw the risen Christ.
- Mary Magdalene spread the gospel after the Ascension of Jesus. She went to the then Emperor of Rome and greeted the Your Highness with the news that “Christ has risen”. The emperor was very much skeptical, pointed to the eggs on the table and said, “Christ has no more risen than that the egg is red.” The eggs immediately turned into blood red.
- Similar plot with version no.2. It was not the Emperor Mary Magdalene had to convince but one of the women waiting at the tomb of Jesus.
Either of the stated versions, all comes down to a belief that eggs are the representation of spring, of the beginning of a new life, and of happiness and joy. Red eggs do not only found in the Orthodox Easter, but also in Chinese culture. Chinese red eggs are usually only found in weddings, and the baby’s first month birthday (or, also called the red eggs and ginger party). It is also known as the Name revealing or announcement party. Color of Red symbolizes prosperity, good fortune, and luck in Chinese culture. The shape of eggs represents the idea of harmony and unity. By the same token, in Orthodox Church, egg symbolizes the new birth of Christ. While the color of red represents blood of Christ during the crucifixion, as well as it is the color of happiness.
If you take a closer look, the red Easter egg has a relatively glossy finish, while the Chinese red eggs are relatively matt. It is because Chinese ones were colored with red paper, instead of boiling it together with the pigment, or chemical dye (yes, it also means your hand would turn pinkish-red if you hold the Chinese red eggs for a while).
Tsougrisma, or Egg Tapping
Other than just dyeing it to red, the eggs also play a crucial role in the whole Easter: Tsougrisma (τσοθγρισμα in Greek), or egg tapping. Besides the abovestated representations, and symbolizations, the eggs also represents Christ’s tomb. The egg stained with his blood he shed, and thus he died on the cross for our sins. Cracking it is equivalent to reenact or re-present the resurrection from the dead. Traditionally, the person who is doing the tapping would say, “Christos anesti (Christ has risen)” and the one whose egg is being tapped will reply “Alithos anesti (Indeed he has).” Everyone should tap the narrow and wide end, i.e. pointy to pointy, wide to wide, of the shell. The last standing one is the winner!
And for this year, I am shielded with the Luck of a Newcomer, and I won! My friend’s mum asked me to keep the egg, and not to consume it 😃
Egg tapping, indeed is not a unique tradition found in Greece, but also in India, Romania, Croatia, and even Jewish culture. Little did I know, it is even a serious sport in the UK and the United States! May be I should consider joining the team 😊
Greek Easter Egg 101
In case you would like to enroll yourself into this sport, or you just want to take part of the tradition, dyeing the eggs in the next Easter, here is the how-to:
- Getting Prepare: Have to prepare the eggs by getting the hens ready! According to the World Egg Jarping Association (yes, it exists for real!), a high calcium diet for hens is a must. Or, if you cannot control this, you can always go to the vendor in a market for advise. The key idea is to look for eggs that are from free-range or farms, anything but commercial raising. Because thee hens from farms, or free-range are better fed.
- Boiling Process: Again, if you are up for competing, or you really wanted to win from the annual tapping game, boil with the pointy end down! This will ensure the air pocket at the bottom does not shift and would not weaken the strength of the shell. The idea in general is not to cram all eggs into the pot all at once. Not to crack the eggs is KEY!
- Dyeing Process: Throw in the chemical dye, or go green!- use outer peels of red onions for the color for 20 mins. And simmer it for 15 minutes at least, or overnight for stronger colors.
- Add Clear nail polish for harder shell (side-tip, everyone!) and of course, a glossy finish!
- Battle Begins!: some other tricks to make you survive longer in the battle, or even winning:
- Look for an egg with a pointier narrow end- Science suggests the pointier the egg, the stronger it is
- Try your egg against your teeth- good shell would make a light and high-pitched sound (but only if your family does not mind you try this with every egg in the basket 😃 )
- Look for egg that is not damaged or cracked (start off clean, you know;))
- Larger does not mean the better
- Cheat- you can always find wooden eggs from toy store in case all you are after is winning.
Remarks: Do not be racist!—when you are looking for eggs, colors of the shells do not suggest any differences between strength of the shells. Even you bought the mix of white and brown shells, you would not able to tell as they would be all in red.
External beauty or color does not mean anything, as always 😊