The History of Easter Eggs
The egg is nature’s perfect package. It has, during the span of history, represented mystery, magic, medicine, food and omen. It is the universal symbol of Easter celebrations throughout the world and has been dyed, painted, adorned and embellished in the celebration of its special symbolism.
Before the egg became closely entwined with the Christian Easter, it was honored during many rite-of-Spring festivals. The Romans, Gauls, Chinese, Egyptians and Persians all cherished the egg as a symbol of the universe. From ancient times eggs were dyed, exchanged and shown reverence.
In Pagan times the egg represented the rebirth of the earth. The long, hard winter was over; the earth burst forth and was reborn just as the egg miraculously burst forth with life. The egg, therefore, was believed to have special powers. It was buried under the foundations of buildings to ward off evil; pregnant young Roman women carried an egg on their persons to foretell the sex of their unborn children; French brides stepped upon an egg before crossing the threshold of their new homes.
With the advent of Chrisianity the symbolism of the egg changed to represent, not nature’s rebirth, but the rebirth of man. Christians embraced the egg symbol and likened it to the tomb from which Christ rose.
Old Polish legends blended folklore and Christian beliefs and firmly attached the egg to the Easter celebration. One legend concerns the Virgin Mary. It tells of the time Mary gave eggs to the soldiers at the cross. She entreated them to be less cruel and she wept. The tears of Mary fell upon the eggs, spotting them with dots of brilliant color.
Another Polish legend tells of when Mary Magdalen went to the sepulchre to anoint the body of Jesus. She had with her a basket of eggs to serve as a repast. When she arrived at the sepulchre and uncovered the eggs, the pure white shells had miraculously taken on a rainbow of colors.
Decorating and coloring eggs for Easter was the custom in England during the middle ages. The household accounts of Edward I, for the year 1290, recorded an expenditure of eighteen pence for four hundred and fifty eggs to be gold-leafed and colored for Easter gifts.
The most famous decorated Easter eggs were those made by the well-known goldsmith, Peter Carl Fabergй. In 1883 the Russian Czar, Alexander, commissioned Fabergй to make a special Easter gift for his wife, the Empress Marie.
The first Fabergй egg was an egg within an egg. It had an outside shell of platinum and enameled white which opened to reveal a smaller gold egg. The smaller egg, in turn, opened to display a golden chicken and a jeweled replica of the Imperial crown.
This special Fabergй egg so delighted the Czarina that the Czar promptly ordered the Faberge firm to design further eggs to be delivered every Easter. In later years Nicholas II, Alexander’s son, continued the custom. Fifty-seven eggs were made in all.
Ornamental egg designers believe in the symbolism of the egg and celebrate the egg by decorating it with superb artistry. Some use flowers and leaves from greeting cards, tiny cherubs, jewels and elegant fabrics, braids and trims, to adorn the eggs. They are separated, delicately hinged and glued with epoxy and transparent cement, then when completed, they are covered with a glossy resin finish. Although the omens and the mystery of the egg have disappeared today, the symbolism remains, and artists continue in the old world tradition of adorning eggs.
Blown eggs offer a twofold reward: First, you get that inimitable sensation when the egg comes splurting out (guaranteed to satisfy the most impish of egg dyers). And second, they keep beautifully from year to year.
To start, shake the egg to break the yolk. Then use a large pin or small nail to make a hole (not too small) in the top and bottom of the egg. Holding the egg over a bowl, blow gently through the top hole until the egg is empty. To help preserve your creations, paint the eggs with craft sealer.
With careful printing, this egg looks like it’s covered with jelly beans (if little kids are at work, it may look more like one big handprint).
Put a few colors of paint on the paper plate (tempera paint dries quickly, so use small amounts or cover the plate with plastic wrap to keep moist). Hold the egg on the ends with your thumb and finger so you can rotate it while you’re stamping. Dip your finger in the paint, dab off the excess on a paper towel, then gently press your finger onto the egg.
Decoupage is best saved for older kids, who can juggle small pieces of paper, glue and a delicate blown egg.
Small images from wrapping paper, magazines, newspaper, food labels or photocopies
Tempera paint and paintbrushes
Cut out the paper images and soak them for a few minutes in a mixture of 2 tablespoons white glue and 2 tablespoons water. Remove the images from the mixture and gently press them onto the egg. The paper should bend and adhere to the egg’s curved surface. Set aside to dry, then paint on borders, designs or solid colors for the background.
TIP: Smaller pictures (1-inch square or smaller) work best. The larger the image, the more it will fold and crease when glued to the egg.
Sponge stamps are easy to use and leave a clean, sharp design. Create your own patterns or just stampede (as it were) at random.
Cut out small shapes, about 1/2-inch wide, from the sponge (we used a thin rectangle to make our zigzag pattern). Dip the sponge into the paint, dab off the excess and make a pattern of stamps on the egg.
TIP: To keep colors fresh, make a sponge stamp for each color.
EASTER EGG CHICKS
In this particular case, the age-old question is settled: The egg definitely came first.
Plastic knife for sculpting
Tempera paint and paintbrushes
Shape the clay into a beak, comb and feet. Rub a dab of white glue onto the clay parts and press them into place on the egg (otherwise, the clay shrinks and detaches as it dries). Hold for 1 minute until the glue starts to dry, then set the clay aside to dry completely. Next, paint on eyes, wings and feathers. Finally, paint the clay features.
BRAIDED EASTER BREAD
Serving this classic bread on Easter is a wonderful way to start an annual tradition.
2 pkgs. dry yeast
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan, add the milk and heat until just warm. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the yeast. Add the sugar, eggs and salt, and stir well. Mix in the flour, one cup at a time, until a soft dough is formed. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, adding flour if the dough is too sticky to handle. Knead until it becomes elastic. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and set in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
Punch down the dough. Divide it into three equal parts and roll each piece into a 20-inch-long strand. Lay the strands side by side and gently braid them. (To avoid tearing the dough, braid from the middle out to an end; repeat with the other side.) Place the woven dough in a wreath shape on a greased cookie sheet, tucking the ends under. Sink the eggs into the dough. Cover and let rise until double in size. Beat 1 egg with 1 teaspoon water and brush the wash over the dough. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown.