There are people who eat to live and others who live to eat — whatever one’s point of view on the importance of food in daily life, there is little argument about the central role it plays in our festivals and celebrations. Some foods are even synonymous with certain occasions — so be it pineapple pachadi for Onam, gujiya for Holi or even a cake for your birthday, celebratory food is likely to remain a part of human culture for a very long time. In some cultures food symbolism has a lot to do with religion and eating ‘celebration’ food at the end of periods of fasting. Take for example Easter, an important Christian festival, which will be celebrated on April 8 this year.
In medieval England, Easter fell at the end of a period of fasting, known as ‘the hungry month’, or Lent as we know it today. After the fasting was over, people are said to have eaten a hearty roast lamb dinner, a tradition which is finds its origins in the Jewish Passover feast. Another Easter staple was and still is the Easter egg.
Eggs are considered to be symbols of continuing life and fertility and their gifting is said to pre-date Christianity. Given as gifts by the ancient Greeks, Persians, and Chinese at their spring festivals, the egg also appears in pagan mythology. For instance, Heaven and Earth were thought to have been formed from two halves of
However, over centuries, eggs have gone on to become a prominent Easter icon, symbolising Jesus’ Resurrection. In the beginning, it was forbidden to eat eggs during Lent. As soon as the solemn period was over, eggs were used liberally to prepare food eaten to break the fast, like Paska, a Ukrainian eggy bread and were even given
While boiled eggs and dishes with generous amounts of egg were popular earlier, what captured children’s imagination were chocolate Easter eggs that made their debut in the 1870s; Cadbury made the first mass-produced eggs in England in 1873. Today chocolate Easter eggs come in all sizes and styles from the simplest milk chocolate egg to the extra-thick dark chocolate shell, intricately decorated with swirls of yet more chocolate and containing just a few tempting decadent cream truffles.
While most of us see Easter eggs as goodies to be consumed, some of these oval beauties are more decorative than edible; the most famous of this category being the Faberge egg. The first such egg was crafted for Tsar Alexander III, who wanted to surprise his wife, the Empress Maria Fedorovna, with a precious Easter Egg in 1885, possibly to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. This two-and-a-half inch long Hen Egg, which exists even today, was made of gold, rubies and enamel.
However, such a luxury could only be afforded by royalty. The common man was content with decorating and gifting simpler and considerably less expensive designs. Whilst the tradition of gifting painted Easter eggs goes back to the Middle Ages, the tradition is still quite popular in many Central European countries like Poland, Bulgaria, Romania etc.
But there is more to the egg than just eating and gifting — there are also traditional Easter Egg games to be enjoyed. A well-known one is the Egg Roll; it is even played every Easter at the White House and the event has been hosted in the grounds since 1878. The game involves propelling a hard-boiled egg across a lawn with a long-handled spoon. Now it may sound like fun to some, I personally would like to retire with a decadent chocolate Easter Egg for company. Till next time. Happy holidays!