Gastronomy Culture: Painted Eggs and Spring Celebrations

25 Mar, 2016

Spring may not have sprung yet, but as warmer months approach, colorful eggs will begin popping up around the world.Christophe Laurent, Senior Lecturer Practical Arts EHL Values Ambassador explores some of the world's traditions of decorating or eating eggs during the various spring holidays.

Painted eggs are actually thought to have Pagan roots, dating back to a time when polytheistic cultures celebrated the spring equinox with offerings and mementos symbolizing rebirth and the beginning of spring. Eggs have since remained a reminder of new and renewing life. Many cultures have embraced this tradition and celebrate the coming of spring in ways that are as varied as the colorful eggs that mark the occasion.

Iranian Nowruz Eggs

One of the oldest egg painting traditions began in Persia (now Iran and Iraq), more than 4,000 years ago. On Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, people prepare a Haft-Seen table which includes seven symbolic items marking the occasion. Although painted eggs are not one of the traditional seven items (which include wheat sprouts, sweet pudding, olive fruit, garlic, apples, sumac, an vinegar), families often include clay animals, fish, and painted eggs to emphasize the importance of new life.

Ukranian Pysanka

Pysanka are Ukrainian Easter eggs (although much of Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, Slovenia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, have similar traditions). Pysanka are created using a wax batik coloring method to create intricate traditional motifs using vegetable dye. Boiled eggs are coated with wax before designs are carefully scratched or written into the wax surface. As the egg is dipped in various colors, more wax is removed to create new colors. The process requires careful planning to create detailed designs much like screen printing today.

Russian orthodox celbrations

In Russian Orthodox Easter celebrations, people traditionally exchanged bright red eggs, symbolizing Christ's death and rebirth. Throughout the centuries, Russia borrowed and refined the Ukrainian batik coloring tradition to create some of the most beautiful Easter eggs in the world. The tradition became so popular that in 1884, Tsar Alexander III asked Carl Faberge to create a special replica of this tradition for his wife to remind her of her childhood. The precious works of art were fashioned out of gold, silver and rare gem stones and remain valuable collectors items to this day.

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Italian pupa con l'uovo

The literal translation of pupa con l'uovo means "doll with egg," and is a traditional Sicilian desert made for Easter. Sweet but firm cookie dough is braided then baked around colorful boiled Easter eggs to herald the coming of spring. These treats are often placed in Easter baskets or served to guests visiting over the Easter holiday. They represent new life and growth, while capturing the joyful, whimsical nature of the holiday.

Jewish Beitzah

The Jewish Beitzah egg is a solitary boiled egg (usually unadorned) served during the spring Passover seder, or ritual holiday feast. The egg is one of six symbolic foods (including roasted bone, horseradish root, apples soaked in wine, onion, and romaine lettuce) prepared and displayed on a Passover plate or Ka'arah during this time of year. Although most seder meals include a full menu, the Ka'arah is an important visual reminder of the Jews' Exodus from Egypt. Passover often falls near the Easter holiday, so some Jewish families also choose to color eggs today.

Lenten Fasting

In the forty days of Lent leading up to Easter, many Catholics do not eat eggs or meat in deference to the denial and death of Christ. On Easter, eggs are a traditional dish to break the fast and celebrate. Because Easter eggs are so popular during this time of year, they are often included in Easter celebrations either in their traditional form or chocolate variations to remember this ritual.

Although painted and boiled eggs have different meanings in different cultures, almost all traditions share the same desire to celebrate the continuing cycle of life and birth. The painted egg is a reminder that despite our differences, many of our values unite us.