This year, the East (Greek and Russian Orthodox) and the West (Roman Catholic and its breakaway Protestant faiths) have booked the same banquet room, as it were, for Easter. The last time this happened was 2004. It will happen again in 2010. That date sounds marvelously futuristic. 2010.
As a child, I loved Easter-- it meant candy, cannoli, watching Judy Garland and Ann Miller and, quite possibly, money. My family's Easter rituals were nearly interchangeable with our Thanksgiving ones. We just traded in the turkey for a ham and wore brighter colors. Of course, there was one notable, Easter-specific activity...
The Easter Egg Hunt.
There was a certain lack of enthusiasm for the hunt at my house. My brother and sister were much older than I and, therefore, largely bored by it. While Betty Ford was busying herself on the South Lawn showing children how to roll Easter Eggs, the only things rolling at my house were the jaded eyes of my siblings. At least they were kind enough to humor me.
Saturday night was spent breaking out the Paas egg dyeing kit, creating two-toned eggs and trying to somehow work the accompanying decals onto the eggs without tearing them. My brother sometimes attempted to create narrative tension on the surface of his eggs, which is a challenge when pastel colors and bunnies are involved. I believe one year my sister dyed one egg blue and painted the original movie poster from Jaws onto it. If anyone could make an Easter egg look menacing, it would have to be my sister. Once finished, we would admire our handiwork until the nausea induced by the acrid smell of the Heinz white wine vinegar wafting up from the egg dyeing cups finally drove us away. And then, at some point during my sleeping hours, the eggs would go into hiding.
I never really understood why the eggs felt the need to hide themselves-- it's not as though anyone in my family really enjoyed eating hard boiled eggs. They were in no real danger. I would have preferred to decorate my bookshelf with them or plant one in the back yard and pray that something interesting grew from it. Perhaps they were afraid of being buried alive.
So they hid. Usually in the same places every year. One always found its way into the piano bench, another in the chandelier which I could never quite reach. We always made an even dozen. When ten or so were found, the already low level of enthusiasm would wane. My mother always stepped into the Judas role, betraying the hiding place of one of the eggs. Eventually, one hiding under the living room sofa or concealed in a recycled Country Crock margarine container would betray itself by its own putrefaction. Usually sometime in May. Or June.
This year, thanks to my new-found interest in things Greek (or, at least, my interest in one particular Canadian of Greek descent), I am embracing the Greek Easter egg. I made a dozen of them yesterday. Why I keep making an even dozen, I'll never know. I suppose it would be more correct to make thirteen, since there were thirteen people present at the Last Supper and that, it would seem, is what got this whole Easter ball --or egg--rolling. Remind me to do that next year.
The traditions involving the Greek Easter egg are much different from our own, and much more no-nonsense than, say, the Russians'. The Russian Easter egg is far too expensive to be produced yearly, but they are a good investment if you have the money. The Greeks don't bother to hide their eggs. Why hide food you know you're going to eat later? Unless, of course, one is re-enacting an historical event and therefore hiding it from the Turks or the Germans. No, they just dye them blood red and put them in the middle of their dinner table. There's more to it than that, of course. There's a power game involved.
What to do when confronted with a Greek Easter egg.
- Show no fear. This egg will most likely be presented to you by a Greek person. They can smell fear almost as well as they can smell lamb or a bargain. Just keep calm, smile and say "Kalo Pascha."
- This egg now in your possession will be given to you after a dinner of spit-roasted lamb and many glasses of wine or ouzo. Take it and partake in a symbolic and faintly violent game of egg smashing.
- One person will turn to another participant seated next to him and say something in Greek. The other person will respond, also in Greek, and they will smash the pointed ends of their respective eggs together. The participant whose egg emerges uncracked moves on to his next victim.
- If that next victim is you, he will say to you "Christos Anesti!" (Christ is risen!) to which you must respond, "Alithos Anesti!" (He is truly risen!") and smash your egg into his.
- If you are victorious, repeat this process until all eggs except one are cracked. If that egg is yours, it means that Jesus likes you better than anyone else in the room and that you will have good luck throughout the year.
What it all means.
The red coloring of the eggs represents the Blood of Christ to the Greeks. I just happen to think they are highly attractive.
The cracking of the egg symbolizes Christ breaking out of his tomb as he rises from the dead. If this is true, then I don't really understand why the person with the uncracked egg is favored. If there is a crack anywhere, in my opinion, it is in the logic of this game. Perhaps the others are simply masking their grief for the damned soul of someone who is now certain never rise to heaven.
If you decide to play the game but are somewhat uncomfortable with so much Jesus talk, you might try substituting your own ritual call-and-response during the game. Something non-religious, yet still meaningful. One person shouting out a love for corduroy while his challenger announces his preference for suede is one such suggestion. I find the Greek tradition of being in such strong verbal agreement with each other while engaging in such aggressive behavior unconvincing and lacking in any real dramatic tension. I suppose if the first person shouted out the usual "Christ is risen!" and the second person responded "Actually, I think he's still napping" or "Christ was a Turk", there might be some tension. It is undoubtedly to my own advantage that I don't know how to say those things in Greek. But it might be exciting to witness, nevertheless.
How to make Greek Easter eggs if no one else is willing to make them for you:
First off, I must implore you not to follow my example. I read the badly translated instructions off the back of a Greek Easter egg dye package, which called for a cold dyeing. I was unwilling to go out and buy more eggs and dye them properly. I already have more hard boiled eggs than I know what to do with. As a result, my eggs look more like the pocked surface of Mars than the pure life force of a Savior whose blood is said to have come directly from King David on his Mother's side and, well, whatever flows through His Father's side of the family.
Here is a better recipe:
12 uncooked eggs
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 package of Greek Easter egg dye
- Carefully wash and dry each egg (I missed this part, so it must be important).
- Set a large pot of water to boil. Add egg dye and vinegar to the water and bring to a boil to dissolve dye.
- Set water aside and let cool. Refrigerate for all I care. It seems that every recipe I've read calls for putting uncooked eggs into boiling or near-boiling water. This sound plain crazy to me. Perhaps it is some odd, Greek act of faith. Perhaps it is precisely because I lack that faith that my eggs came out spotty.
- Set now-cooled water over stove and carefully add the eggs. Bring water to a boil and turn off heat.
- Let eggs sit for 10 minutes, remove them carefully and allow to cool and dry.
- Wipe eggs with olive oil-soaked paper towels.
- Wipe now with a clean, dry soft cloth to remove excess oil and to polish.
- Place them on your Easter table and let the fun begin.