Easter EggsThe story behind the tradition
Easter eggs represent a symbol and a traditional food prepared for Easter, a Christian festival that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. History of the largest Christian festivity is linked with lots of pagan beliefs as well. Pagans celebrated the arrival of spring this time of year, light and re-awakening of new life. The most famous Goddess of the Pagans was called Ostara, she was the Goddess of Dawn and Spring, the Goddess of Fertility. One year when she was late with her arrival – so she felt guilty. She decided to save a life of a bird, whose wings have been frozen because of the long winter. The bird became her pet. She felt sorry for him, because he was unable to fly. She decided to turn him into a snowy-white rabbit, that became her sacred animal. To replace the ability of flying, she gave him the ability to run fast. But since she wanted to keep a memory of him being a bird before, she gave him the ability to lay eggs as well, but only once a year. This explains why rabbits and eggs became symbolic for Easter and they represent new life.
The egg is the most perfect image of fertility and new life and one of the oldest symbols in cultures around the world. The egg, coloured red, has a big meaning in Christianity, since it symbolises the drops of Jesus’s blood. In Slovenian language we call an Easter egg “pirh”. Translated into Greek it means fire, in Hungarian it means red and in Czech to turn red. This is also the most traditional colour in which the eggs are being painted to. Red colour symbolises sun, energy, life, heart, love, faith, heaven.
In Slovenia Easter eggs are first mentioned in a document of the Dominican monastery from the town Radlje na Dravi already back in 1393. They were supposed to be gifts for nuns on an Easter Saturday. In our most famous historical book from 1689 “The fame of the duchy of Carniola” by Valvasor he mentions that on Easter Saturday the believers are carrying baskets full of goodies for the blessings. The list of goodies consists of salted ham and beef, horseradish, hard-boiled painted eggs and potica, traditional walnut pastry of Slovenia.
Today, the painted Easter eggs of Slovenia are considered among the most beautifully decorated eggs in all of Europe. The eastern part of Slovenia has developed a style, where the inside of the eggs is blown out of the shell and they paint on a black surface of the shell lots of geometric and stylised patterns, traditional for the area, including the patterns of bobbin style lace. The western part of Slovenia does the eggs similarly but patterns are mostly of herbs and flowers, sometimes religious symbols. This style of egg decoration is a true art-form and cannot be done by everybody. Only the most skilled, with tons of patience and a steady hand, can do that art. For the rest, we go into simple techniques that bring beautiful results as well.
The technique we use most often is very “old school”. While the artificial colours you buy in a store give variety of shades, sometimes they also leave colour stains in the eggs and that is not the healthiest thing. For the last couple of years we have been going back to the most traditional way – making coloured eggs with the help of the onion peel. So how do we do it? First of all you need to start collecting the onion peel already a month or two prior to Easter. It doesn’t matter what peel you take – from yellow or red onions, as long as you gather a lot of it. If you will have more red onion peel the colour might turn darker, more yellow – a little more subtle brown. Once Easter arrives all you still need are some eggs (white shell is not a must) and you gather some first spring flowers and leaves from your garden. You take the egg and a flower, wrap it very tightly with an old nylon sock that you cut into pieces to cover the egg and then lay those eggs into a big-enough pot filled with onion peel. Pour water over the pot and let it cook until boiling on low temperature, for at least 10 minutes after boiling. When that time passes you should leave the eggs inside of the water for another hour. Once you start unwrapping them, you need a cloth dipped in with a few drops of olive oil that you wipe across the egg lightly and then lay them into a basket. The eggs turn out beautifully brown with patterns from nature – each one is unique. Of course there are some more organic ways of painting the eggs – a popular one recently has been cooking the eggs in spice curcuma, in red beets, some people even do it in red wine, etc. We don’t mind the spice or veggies, but in our family we prefer drinking the wine.
Once eggs are done, we lay them in a basket and they decorate our kitchen tables until the traditional Easter breakfast, when goodies are brought out and a large feast, brunch-style takes place. This is where the whole family gathers, stories are exchanged, tummies are filled and memories are made. Bread-wrapped ham, horseradish spread mixed in with sour cream and eggs, potica – our walnut filed rolled dough pastry – are just a few things never missed. We play some games with the eggs – usually kids against the adults. Sometimes only breaking the eggs at the table – two people try to compete in beating up eggs against one another – the one, whose egg is not broken, continues with other people sitting at the table. If weather is nice we take the games outside – in Slovenia we do not hide the eggs and go on hunts, this tradition is only now coming in from the West. But we play two games – “štrucanje” which doesn’t have a translation but a loose description is that you lay eggs into a basket and from a distance thrown coins into them, whoever hits the egg and the coin stays in the shell, takes all of the coins thrown. The second called “takalicanje” is almost like bowling. But with eggs. You need two rakes and you make a little narrow path with their help on which the eggs are being sent down a little hill… whoever’s egg gets the farthest, is the winner. There is no award at the end, but good times with the beloved family sound like a good award to me for sure.
Happy Easter everybody! Vesele velikonočne praznike!