Easter ‘eggs’uberance

In 1986, my husband and I were living in Iran. Looking forward to Easter Sunday, which was about 10 days away, we made an interesting discovery. Long before eggs became synonymous with our festival, they had played a part in other religious rituals.

On March 21, while enjoying the Nowruz (New Year) celebrations at the home of our friends, Homayun and Shaadi, we noticed some colourful eggs. They were displayed on a table, beside the traditional ‘haft-seen’: seven items beginning with the letter ‘S’. These included apples and sprouts, known by names that were familiar to us, sib and sabzeh. When we politely pointed out that eggs (tokhme morgh in Farsi) seemed out of place, Homayun explained that they had featured in Nowruz ceremonies for several centuries.

Esteemed as symbols of fertility in Iran, Egypt, Greece and Rome, eggs were customary offerings on important occasions. In China, as far back as five thousand years ago, painted eggs were popular presents at the start of spring.

The Church borrowed the concept of special eggs from those ancient civilisations, but there is one notable difference. While eggs at Easter stand for rebirth and renewal (as do those of various cultures), they primarily represent that cornerstone of the Christian creed: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Easter eggs recall the sealed tomb from which Christ emerged triumphant and, consequently, a newly hatched chick is also an emblem of Easter. Easter Eggs had their origin in an age when people gave up eggs for forty days and consumed them again, as fasting turned to feasting. Early Easter eggs were dyed red, so that, in the midst of all the eating and euphoria, the sacrifice of Good Friday was not forgotten.

In 1290, Edward I, King of England, is known to have gifted Easter eggs to his entire household, and a later prayer entreats God to make the Easter egg a ‘wholesome sustenance’. No doubt, that was a petition easily granted, since those simple hard-boiled eggs would definitely have been more nutritious (if less delicious!) than the rich chocolate eggs of today.

While Easter eggs have always had auspicious associations, there were once irrational ideas concerning everyday eggs. In less logical times, it was considered bad luck to find a very small egg; nor was it advisable to bring eggs indoors after nightfall. While eggs with double yolks spelt trouble, those with no yolks brought their own share of misfortune. Eggshells were viewed as more dangerous than eggs.

The hard outer coverings could become boats for wicked witches who, not content with jaunts on the river, might make it their mission to set out in their weird watercrafts and sink ships at sea. Strangely, people saw no discrepancy between belief in such superstitions and faith in a death-defeating deity!

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