Eggs for Easter

‘The one who gets a golden egg/ Will plenty have and never beg.’ This old Easter couplet recalls the famous goose that provided generously for her master, until he killed his benefactress. The lines might allude to that fable, but the valuable egg only features once in a poem that lists eggs of different shades. The mention of each Easter egg is accompanied by a fanciful forecast, related to the colour in which its shell is painted.

Somebody who acquires an egg with a blue exterior will win true love, but the recipient of ‘an egg of green’ is doomed to turn jealous. The latter occurrence could be linked to the traditional association of green with envy, but why a person with a purple egg should ‘die a bachelor or maid’ is unclear. A white egg augurs ‘supreme delight,’ and a black egg signals trouble. Pink eggs avert danger, while those of silver ‘bring much joy and happiness’. Evidently, these verses are marked more by rhyme than reason.

After all, in times past, when people eagerly consumed eggs on Easter Sunday (after abstaining from them for forty penitential days), they were hardly concerned with their external appearance. Neither were children in a state of suspense as far as colours were concerned. They knew that their hard-boiled eggs would be dyed red, denoting Christ’s sacrificial death.  

As for the chocolate Easter eggs of today, they usually taste delicious whatever their covering. Recently, a confectioner sent me WhatsApp images of her creations. Sheathed in shiny foil, plain and patterned, the eggs were enticingly encased. Among the many displayed, I selected some in bronze wrappings and checked the pertinent poetic prophecy. Prepared for something dismal such as, ‘The one who gets an egg of brown/ Will wear perpetually a frown,’ I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could expect an ‘establishment in town!’

Such frivolity is at variance with the serious symbolic significance of eggs this season. They represent rebirth and renewal, as they did for the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Nowruz (the Iranian New Year) ceremonies still include the placing of decorated eggs on a special table, along with other, more important, items. The origin of Easter eggs can probably be traced back to the spring rituals of civilisations that predate Christianity. Besides this historical aspect, however, there is a lovely legend about why eggs — particularly colourful ones — play so prominent a part in Easter celebrations.

During the dark days before Easter, a bird sang sorrowfully as it kept vigil by the tomb of Jesus. Rewarded for her devotion, she went on to lay bright and beautiful eggs. Did they escape the common fate of their counterparts through the ages? One hopes that, imbued with the life-giving spirit of Easter, they hatched into vibrant songsters of varied hues!

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