Folklore…Easter eggs

Easter Eggs (Folklore)


«…do you know my child why we dye the eggs red? Because when Christ was resurrected, an egg seller has taken his place in the market first thing in the morning with a basket of eggs and was selling them. Maria, a disciple of Christ, passed from there and said to him: Christ has resurrected and aren’t you happy? Instead of that, you sit here selling eggs and you don’t care what is going on outside. Then the egg seller told her: Only if the eggs of the basket turn red I will believe that he was resurrected. And indeed, he couldn’t finish his word and the eggs turned blood red. Since then people dye the eggs red on Easter».

 (Manuscript from the Folklore Syllabus of the Folklore seminar of the School of Philosophy of the University of Athens, 1738, p. 171. Sfinari, Kissamos, Chania, 1973, Georgia Georgakaki)

The Resurrection

 An egg dyed «red» constitutes the main symbol of the Resurrection of Christ and Easter. Therefore, general participation is compulsory in the service of the Resurrection, which they had to hear even … «the brooding hens»: «…everyone goes to the Resurrection. Nobody stays home. Even the sick went to the church. They lifted the brooding hens too. They didn’t leave them on the eggs. To hear the Resurrection».

 In Epirus, this action is also justified like this: «On the night of the Resurrection any housewife who has a hen in «brooding» should lift it from the eggs when the bells ring to hear the Resurrection, because otherwise it will be found dead in the morning». The symbolic correlation of the brooding hen – egg with the Resurrection is strongly rooted in the minds of people, a fact that is expressed by various actions and ways as the above.

 The red color, already known from pre-Christian times, as supporting of the symbolic resurrection and reinforcement of the nature, suitable also for other traditional worship rituals was also extended to the red eggs of Easter, otherwise called Easter eggs. It should be noted, that the Orthodox Church has adopted pagan superstitions in many occasions, which it dressed, loaded and signified with Christian mystical interpretations and doctrines.

Easter Eggs

 The fact that Easter cannot be thought of «without a red egg», a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ, is commonplace. With the red egg « opens» the mouth of the believers that was blocked with the egg of Cheesefare Sunday, the «haska (a magical – oracular game with a boiled or baked egg to deter the demonic creatures)», after the Great Lenten fast, during the Resurrection. «The first non-fasting food should an egg», which is also eaten often before the «Dismissal» of the Church after they «tap» it, after the «Christ has Risen!».

 Whereas in Vathylakkos, Kozani, «the first tapping of the red eggs has to be done right after the Resurrection, which is considered as a «sacred moment», in Velvendos, Kozani, the final time allowed to eating the eggs, which were dyed on Holy Thursday is considered the feast of the Life-Giving Spring, «otherwise it is not appropriate» and new eggs should be dyed on Renewal Thursday.

 Apart from the above known beliefs about tapping, there are also various others which mix folk beliefs with Christian symbolisms. In Fyli (Chasia): «as soon as the bell rang, they went to the Church with an egg in the pocket, which they break on the door of the Church with the first Christ has Risen!». There is also a similar tradition in Chiliodendro, Kastoria: «on the first day after Easter, as soon we went out of the door of the church we would break an egg crosswise on the door».

 We note that in this action there is an additional effort to enhance the already loaded with various superstitions egg and with the divine power and blessing through the gate of the church, which is considered as a sacred area, so that this divine power to be transmitted to man, who will eat it. We also have a similar tradition elsewhere in Macedonia, where «after the service of the Resurrection and after the priest has blessed all the eggs, the residents will get out and go one by one to break their eggs on the wooden bell, which is hung out of the Church. Then a dance starts, mainly by women who sing».

It is also worth noting a propitiatory action by the residents of Agios Nikolaos, Trichonida, who «on Easter morning also feed with a red egg, fresh cheese and good bread the fountain from where clear water runs ». This act of offering a range or individual food items, usually primary (egg, butter, New Year’s Day cake etc.) or medleys to metaphysically personified forces, such as the fountain, the well, the spring, etc. on the New Year’s Day with the associative wish «as the water runs, to run your fortunes» or by the newlywed bride to the demon of the fountain during her first visit there after the wedding, is known and it has a fertility and propitiatory character.

 I believe that this is also the purpose of the offer of the egg, which is also specifically loaded with the Easter symbolism, and which also serves as a magical – religious cover and psychological – social recognition for the residents themselves. This tradition, with variations, but with the same symbolism of the egg «as a sacrifice to the demons of water» is also known from other European countries.

The day of dyeing. Acts and beliefs.

The dyeing of the eggs in the Monastery of the Mother of Our Lord (N. Psilakis, Folk rituals in Crete).

The eggs all over Greece are usually dyed by the mother – landlady , otherwise «red Thursday», because it is believed that «then the eggs do not go off». In a few cases the eggs are dyed by the newlywed women «for their own good». Locally there are various beliefs also about the time on which the eggs are dyed on Holy Thursday.

 The most appropriate time for the dyeing is considered that, which intervenes before the sunrise until «the ringing of the first bell for the Matins of the morning service». Moreover, in Pisoderio, Florina, in Vogatsiko, Kastoria and elsewhere, mainly in Northern Greece: «on Holy Thursday morning before the sun rises and before the Matins we used to lay out a red blanket or cloth, then we used to light the fireplace and dye the eggs red».

 Since according to causal traditions «the red color» symbolizes the blood of Christ, this meaning is also attributed to the habit of suspending red clothes from the windows, the balconies, the gate etc. Also according to testimony from Doxato, Drama: «on Holy Thursday, as soon as the landlady places a red clothe out of the central gate of her house to show that the whole day is dyed red by the blood of our Lord on the Cross».

 In Nigrita, Serres, the eggs are dyed after the morning service and of course in a solemn ritual way. In Theopetra, Kalambaka: «the Easter eggs are dyed on Holy Thursday night. However they dye only three eggs on Holy Wednesday – they are the Holy Trinity – from which they donate one to the Mother of our Lord». The habit of dying a symbolic number of eggs on Holy Wednesday is also testified in Amygdali of Agia, Larissa, where «from Holy Wednesday night we used to dye five eggs. We keep them for Christ because he was crossed with 5 nails».

 In general, on Holy Thursday it is customary for the eggs to be dyed before the service starts, because otherwise it is believed that if the bells rang and they were not dyed they would break». In other areas «from the moment however that the bell would stop ringing, that is from Holy Thursday noon until Holy Saturday daybreak they would not touch any eggs because they would go rotten. For this reason many people dyed them on Holy Saturday morning». That’s why in Kontogenada, Pali: «the eggs are dyed on Holy Saturday and not on Holy Thursday».

 In many places the eggs «which were laid on Holy Thursday, when they are dyed they are separated because they have special properties and they are used in many instances». In Almyros, Magnisia «if the Holy Thursday egg is laid by a black hen it is dyed separately and kept at the holy icon and it is used «to cast the evil eye away from children». In Lithines, Siteia, it is believed that «the Holy Thursday eggs, no matter how long they are kept, there is the belief that they do not go off. They also say that if they are kept for five years they become gold coins».

 The dyeing of the eggs is done with great care and in a ritual manner. The color of the eggs, as it has been already noted, is red, without of course to exclude other colors, like yellow (it implies the bitterness for the Crucifixion of Christ), blue etc. Special importance is attributed to the decoration of the eggs as «many times the eggs are decorated with paintings and various «adornments», which picture flowers or birds. They call those eggs adorned, studded or partridges».

 The girls even put feathers from colored paper as well as tail from dough on the eggs and they make them look like little birds ready to fly. Elsewhere they write respectful timely wishes and the phrase «CHRIST HAS RISEN!», or the initials C-R, provided that they were «literate». It should be noted that every action, which is related to the dyeing of the eggs, is signified by the respect for the already loaded with plenty of mystical properties and divine powers dyed eggs.

The mystical properties and divine powers of the egg are also reinforced by their placement on Holy Thursday night on the feet of the Crucifix while reading the Gospels. I quote a ceremonial ritual of the egg-dyeing from Megara where it is clearly shown all the respect and the relevant with it beliefs: «on Holy Thursday women dye red eggs and then they anoint them with oil to make them shiny and beautiful. They make them all beautiful despite that they were poor.

 They are good clean housewives. An egg, especially the first one that will be dyed, is placed at the holy icons and stays there until next Easter when it will be replaced. Then the dyed eggs are placed by the women of Megara on a platter which is placed on the table of the «loft». The platter with the eggs is covered with a white clean and well-ironed cloth, because it is a sin if Holy Friday, which is the saddest day, finds them uncovered».

 The same reasoning is involved in the act by the women of Nigrita, Serres, who «before the Deposition of the Cross collect the red clothes that were spread out on the balconies from Holy Thursday after the egg-dyeing». Holy Friday, as the most eminently mournful day of the year, is usually presented personified and therefore it should not be challenged, as a mourner (mourners do not dye eggs) by the red color of the eggs (and by those red clothes) which already portend the festive message of the Resurrection.

 A similar belief comes from Epirus: «where, on Holy Friday they hide (not to be seen) even the red egg that they have placed at the holy icon on Holy Thursday».

Similar are also the acts from Kythira, where «on Holy Friday they did not make cheese, touch cheese or eggs from the nest, because whatever they touched on that day would go off, that’s why they made them from Holy Thursday».

 Apart from Holy Thursday, which was considered the most eminent day for the dyeing of the eggs, according to perceptions from all over Greece, they dyed eggs more rarely on Holy Saturday, on Sunday of Saint Thomas, on Saint George’s Day, on the Day of the Ascension up to the Pentecost. The tradition of egg-dyeing during the whole period of fifty days after Easter and the compulsory offer for «tapping» between relatives and friends is widespread in almost all the Greek places.

Easter eggs

They also used to dye eggs every Thursday in the period of six weeks after Easter, which were called «exapefta». This act is explained as follows: «because the dyeing of the eggs is considered a sacred ritual…we had the habit on all Thursdays after Easter, 6 in total, when we dyed the eggs up to the Day of the Ascension, not to go to work because they were holidays». This means that the day of dyeing the eggs, because of its sanctity, dictates a holiday. The Renewal Thursday is also called «agiopefti» as well as all the Thursdays of April and the eggs «agiopeftiatika».

 In Thrace there was the belief, that «if they dyed eggs on seven Thursdays, also including the red (Holy) Thursday, six eggs on each, that would be a good thing for the crown (the husband and wife) and the children». Another relevant belief is that from Salamina: «They place the first red egg in the crown case. They call it the Christ’s egg, where they leave it for a year. This is a good thing for the couple». Eggs are also dyed on Mayday, if that day coincided within the Easter period, which, as its name also states, is the most eminently magical and oracular day. In Fyli «When Mayday falls on Easter period, the girls will dye the eggs first thing in the morning and they will go out in the sunshine to view the «shadow» (oracular energy)».

 The shells of the Easter eggs are also used as semiotic of the Resurrection of Christ, thus «on Easter with the shells of the red eggs they used to make a cross out of the door which signified that «Christ has Risen!». In Epirus also when they return from the Resurrection, at dawn, they fill half shell of the red egg with cow manure (symbol of fertility) and stick it to the lintel of their gate.

 Exorcistic activities

 «They keep the shells of the Easter eggs and throw them along with rose leaves and other flowers outside the entrance of the house on Mayday dawn for a good year» (passing – transitional time). For a good year and relief from the fleas the following exorcistic activity takes place in Stasion on Cheese Fare Sunday (transitional time from winter to spring): «in the end of the meal they collect the remainders and the egg peels» and a girl runs to a neighboring house and throw them in the yard shouting Lady…I kept the fleas for the winter, you should keep them for the summer».

 It is known that various insects, fleas, bugs etc. make their appearance during spring and that’s why an effort is made to be exorcised in many ways and magical actions like e.g. with the egg shells of Cheese Fare Sunday, which also involve a deterrent power that is also enhanced by the song refrain used.

 Shepherds’ beliefs

 Whereas most people dye the eggs on Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday, the shepherd populations «either don’t dye or don’t tap the eggs on Easter because it was not appropriate to touch the red eggs, because the livestock would catch «avgoulithra», a sheep disease. The shepherds usually dye the eggs on Easter Monday». It is about a panhellenic homeopathic belief with local variations as it will be shown by the quoted indicative examples:

 «After the Resurrection, whereas they tap the eggs, they don’t eat them, so that the sheep don’t make avgoulithres».

 «On Easter day the shepherds don’t eat red eggs so that the sheep don’t make avgoulithra. On the same day they also don’t eat milk so that the fly won’t spit on them».

 «On Easter day the shepherds don’t touch the eggs so that the livestock does not get any harm (in general), catch avgoulithres, make pimples on their breasts».

 «On the Resurrection the shepherd is not allowed to touch the eggs, either red or white, if he hasn’t previously milked. In case he forgets and he has touched the eggs, he has to catch the cat (to exorcize the evil) and then to go milking» etc.

 This prohibition in many places is also extended to «cheese pies», because they also include eggs.

 Eating or even tapping eggs on Easter day is also prohibited preventively according to commensurate thinking and concerns people’s health according to the testimony from Chiliodendro of the prefecture of Kastoria: «…but we didn’t break it nor did we eat red eggs on the first day so that our lips didn’t get bruised». Besides «the Easter egg is not appropriate to be shared because the goats will catch avgoulitida».

 In many places it is believed that «women were also not appropriate to eat so that their clothes fit them on the days of Easter».

 Bereavement

 Those in bereavement, depending on the local traditions, either don’t dye any eggs or they dye compulsory only one egg, like in Kalyvia, «for the good». Because as it is generally believed in Attica «if you don’t dye on the first year, then you are not allowed to dye for three consecutive years». There is a similar habit in Kyparissia: «They don’t dye any eggs on Easter, however they may give to the neighbor to dye a few red ones for them, for the good, because if they don’t dye any at all, three years should pass before they can dye again». In other areas, like in Kato Lapsista, Ioannina «they dyed them black or they didn’t dye them at all», as it happens in Thrace and in almost the whole Greek cultural territory. In Achladi, Evia, on the other hand: « the mourners don’t dye the eggs red, the color of joy, but blue, brown or purple…Well, it is not appropriate!… to dye red eggs on the first year!»

 The reason for the red color

 The red color of the Easter eggs can be also interpreted by the reasoning tradition from Attica, which is known in miscellaneous variations throughout Greece: «a Jewish woman, or whatever else, had white eggs in her apron. So they told her that Christ was resurrected and she said: «if the white eggs go red, then Christ will have resurrected». And then they went red!».

 An interesting variation is this one from Kampos Voion, Lakonia for the red color of the eggs: «On Holy Thursday they dye the eggs red, because they say that the Mother of our Lord after the Crucifixion of Christ dyed red eggs and shared them, because it was Easter, without the pain for her son to prevent her». In Achladi, Evia, «they dye the eggs red because it is thought to be the spilled blood of Christ».

 Apart from the reasoning folk traditions about the color of the eggs, there are also scientific interpretations by: Nikolaos Politis, A. Keramopoulou, Faidonas Koukoules, Stilpon Kyriakidis, Georgios Megas, Georgios Spyridakis, Dim. Loukatos, Stef. Imellos etc., whose theories are indicatively recorded by Andreas Rousounidis.

 The dye

 There are also plenty of superstitious beliefs, which are related to the dye of the eggs, its use and keeping, the pot in which it is placed, the composition of the dye (usually from plant materials). The pot in which the eggs are dyed should be a new one (the use of an unused one is also known from other activities).

 In many areas of Greece the dye is kept for «forty days and then they «scatter» it or pour it in the sea on the Day of the Ascension at the time of the bells ringing for the evening prayer».

 In Myrina, Lesvos, on Holy Thursday «they put some color (dye) from the red of the eggs in the candle for the good. They keep it for 40 days». In Katochi, Vonitsa, there is the following belief about the time duration of keeping the dye: «if a woman doesn’t dye the eggs on Holy Thursday, she dyes them on Holy Saturday. If she dyes them on Holy Thursday she has to keep the dye for forty days and then to pour it. If however she dyes on Holy Saturday she may pour it immediately. It is not appropriate to pour the dye of Holy Thursday, because this was when the blood of Christ was poured» (homeopathetic comparison).

 The dyes (paints) of the eggs used to be from plant sources and «the landladies used to make them themselves», like in Attica. In Vogatsiko, Kastoria «the use of a readymade dye is considered a great sin». The following superstition was also strong: «if the eggs could not be colored they say that it was because of the hen. The success of dyeing is believed to depend on the egg itself. For the failure of the color the blame is also placed on the hen.

 The failure of the color is also believed  for the family: «…we think that the color that the eggs will take is important. If the red is striking, that means a good thing for the family, if it is dull, that is a bad thing or somebody will die».

However there is also the opposite belief: that the failed to dye «whitish» egg, the «shepherd», as they call it in the villages of Kalampaka, guards health: «On Holy Thursday they dye the eggs red early in the morning. They say that the first one placed in the dye is not dyed well. It comes out white and they say: ah, this is the shepherd, that’s why it’s white. They placed this white egg aside and they crossed the whole family to be healthy. Then they placed at the candle and they keep it for a whole year, like the holy bread».

 «Holy Thursday» eggs

 It is highly loaded with beliefs and it is considered all over Greece as «the first egg», which was laid and dyed on Holy Thursday and more so because it comes from the «black hen». In Almyros, Magnisia, if the Holy Thursday egg is laid by a black hen it is dyed separately and kept at the holy icon and it is used to «cast away the evil eye from children». In Lithines, Siteia, it is believed that «no matter how long they keep the Holy Thursday eggs, they don’t go stale. They also say that if they are kept for years they become gold coins». In many places in general the eggs «that were laid on Holy Thursday, when they dye them, they separate them because they have special properties and they use them in many cases».

 The «Holy Thursday» eggs, as they are commonly called, are used in various rituals, superstitious acts, symbolic acts, worship habits etc. The entire «Holy Thursday» eggs or just the «shells» are used as filters and «hating objects» on various binding spells, to deter the demon powers, prevent harmful acts, having a repelling power over diseases (the plague).

 In agricultural populations, as well as in Attica, the «Holy Thursday» egg is used for the successful cultivation of plants and trees. The use of the eggs in casting away the evil eye is also generally known for the protection of plants both in Attica (Kouvaras, Kalyvia etc.) and elsewhere: «In pots with beautiful flowers they usually put a clove of garlic and an egg that is of course empty (the shell) not to be caught by the evil eye and decay».

 In many occasions and also preventatively in various acts, which concern the protection of the farms and the prevention of acts of god, like the hail on St. Panteleimon’s Day, a critical and dangerous time during summer for acts of god, «they used to bury the eggs laid by the hens on Holy Thursday in the vineyard, to protect it from the hail». St. George’s Day is also considered critical for hail in the prefecture of Pella.

 Therefore, preventatively «they take a red egg and go and bury it in the farms. In case of hail in the summer they take out a red egg on the trivet which they have kept at the holy icon from Holy Thursday, and the hail stops». The trivet in folk perception is connected to the fire and it also has a deterrent power, which is also enhanced by other symbols, as in this case by the power of the egg, and as a result the action for the reversal of hail will be effective now.

Source


Folklore of the «egg» and the «egg cake» and mainly in the Prefecture of Attica, Maria Miligkou – Markantoni, Reprint from Volume N΄, 1999-2000, of the Yearbook of the Society of Byzantines Studies, In Athens, 2006. Argoliki Archival Library of History & Culture.