Easter is an annual feast celebrated in the spring by those of the Christian faith. Traditionally, Easter ends Holy Week, in which the Passion of Christ is remembered with liturgical calendar days like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday; thus beginning the season of Eastertide. Traditional Easter Sunday activities include attending church services, having a big family meal, and Easter egg painting followed by an egg hunt for the children.
Egg Coloring History
Throughout history, eggs have been a symbol of fertility. Before their use in Easter activities, eggs were traditionally colored for springtime festivals and exchanged with others. Egg coloring began as a practice among those of the Christian faith as a result of the symbolism and legends associated with eggs and Christ's death and resurrection.
The painting of Easter eggs gained popularity in 1290, when Edward I of England ordered hundreds of eggs to be covered in gold leaf and colored to give as Easter gifts. Russian Faberge eggs were first made in 1883, when Czar Alexander III commissioned goldsmith Peter Carl Faberge to make a special Easter gift for the Empress Marie.
Christian Symbolism and Egg Coloring
In the Christian tradition, the egg symbolizes a renewal of life. In the Orthodox Church, painting eggs red is a symbol of the blood Jesus shed on the cross.
Polish legends say that Mary Magdalene took eggs with her when she went to anoint Jesus' body, and the eggshells miraculously became covered in a rainbow of colors. The legends also tell about the Virgin Mary bringing eggs to soldiers as Christ hung on the cross. As Mary wept, her tears spotted the eggs with bright colors.
Orthodox legends say Mary Magdalene took boiled eggs to share with others at Jesus' grave, and the eggs turned red when she saw the risen Christ. Some traditions also tell stories of Mary Magdalene, after Jesus' resurrection, at a dinner party with the Emperor Tiberius of Rome. Legend says that Mary held out a plain egg in her hand as she told the Emperor that Christ had risen. The Emperor laughed and said the chances of that happening were as likely as the egg in her hand turning red. Before Tiberius could finish his phrase, the egg turned red in Mary's hand.
Egg Coloring Techniques
Eggs that are used for decorative coloring typically are "blown" to remove the egg whites and yolk. One of the most well-known ways to decorate eggs is to use a traditionally Ukrainian, wax-resistant method called "batik" or "pysanki" to create intricate designs.
Along with using artist paints, eggs were naturally dyed using onion skins or other staining fruits and vegetables.
Modern artists paint and carve eggs, or etch drawings and designs into them. The use of mixed media (such as paper, fabric and clay) to cover eggs is also gaining popularity.
International Egg Coloring Traditions
In Mexico, it is traditional to fill colored hollow eggs (cascarones) with confetti.
In the Slavic traditions, eggs are written on with hot wax, and then placed into dye baths. Applique techniques are also used to glue items like sequins onto the outside of the eggs.
Those of the Armenian tradition will often paint images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary or other religious figures onto Easter eggs.
Egg Coloring Today
Among families in the United States, Easter eggs are traditionally dyed at home using food coloring. A couple of drops of the food color one wishes to use is mixed with a tablespoon of vinegar and 1/2 to 2/3 of a cup of water. The eggs are then submerged in the dye bath until the desired color is achieved. Every spring, commercial egg dying kits go on sale a few weeks before Easter.