In the past, I have spent Easter holiday on a farm in Germany where we collected eggs freshly laid in the hen house on Easter morning. I once cross-country skied on a mountaintop to enjoy a snow picnic of salmon and hard-boiled eggs at sunrise with my Norwegian cousins. I savored soufflé as light as air and leg of lamb with my French in-laws a table Normandy. And I struggled to color eggs, which were brown, not white with my children in Switzerland.
Easter traditions in Europe reflect the influence of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox religion with various symbols reflecting spring, rebirth and a time for celebration of life over death. Through time, the egg remains the most well known symbol of Easter.
The egg hunt originates from an ancient European tradition where eggs of different colors were taken from birds’ nests to make talismans; gradually, painted eggs replaced wild birds’ eggs. In Medieval Europe, eggs that were forbidden during Lent, became prized Easter gifts for children.
Germans also used to hang hollow, painted eggs on trees. Today branches laden with colored wooden eggs are centerpieces in homes during the Easter holiday.
In Eastern Europe, hollow eggs are still hand painted in elaborate designs and Poland and Ukraine eggs were often painted in silver and gold. Germans gave green eggs as gifts on Holy Thursday and even today friends will present one another with beautifully hand painted eggs. Specific patterns have been passed on for generations.
Around 1885, Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé created the Fabergé egg, the most famous egg of all times. This jewelry egg, filled with surprises of gold and gems inside, was especially designed for Czar Alexander III to give to his wife, Marie. Fabergé only created one egg each year and each was a masterpiece.
Eggs have been decorated, traded, devoured and have served as entertainment for centuries. Egg rolling, thought to symbolize the stones rolled away from the tomb, has varied slightly from Russia to England to Scotland. German immigrants brought the custom to America, which has been practiced on the White House lawn since James Madison’s presidency. Latvians invented the egg game where ends of eggs are tapped together until broken; the winner is the owner of the last remaining unbroken egg.
Although eggs have long symbolized springtime and renewal of life and strength, In France, bells, not bunnies, deliver eggs. As a token of mourning for crucified Christ, church bells remain silent from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. On Easter, when the chimes ring again children rush outside to see the bells fly home to Rome, while their parents hide chocolate Easter eggs spilling from the sky.
Somehow regardless of one’s nationality or religious belief, chocolate eggs have become the universal symbol of Easter in the Western world. In Switzerland, headquarters for world famous Nestle and Lindt, chocolate plays a predominate role in my Easter celebration.
Whatever your particular family tradition, whether you paint, roll, crack, or scramble your eggs à table, in the yard or on a mountaintop, as you celebrate renewal and new beginnings, reflect back on those traditions that your ancestors brought to the New World. Happy Easter!