The festival brings with it one of the most secular of Christian traditions, the Easter egg, which has travelled all over the world.
In these furiously polarised and contentious times, the arrival of spring—and Easter—is a thing of joy. Easter brings with it one of the most secular of Christian traditions, the Easter egg. And today being Easter, a stroll down the history of the egg is but necessary. It is said the Easter egg was first introduced in America, the land of pop culture, by German immigrants, who believed it was the gift of an egg-laying hare. Since then, it has travelled all over the world and enjoyed great appeal, in particular, with children.
Historically, the egg has always been associated with celebration. It found a place of note in the pagan world, as a commemoration of the life-giving property of the egg and of springtime after a long winter. In Christian tradition, it is emblematic of the resurrection and Christ’s emergence from the tomb. But, as is the case with most traditions, a degree of practicality marked these practices that have now been embellished through the ages. In the past, during the period of Lent, eggs were forbidden food and were consumed prior to the beginning of the fast. However, no one informed the hardworking hens, who would dutifully lay eggs right through Lent! Something had to be done with the eggs, as they were meant for consumption. Hence, they were often hardboiled or eaten very quickly after the fasting period, leading to the creation of many ‘egg-friendly’ Easter dishes, as well as, it is said, the Easter egg.
The Easter egg has in time become not only a treasured, but a fun aspect of this holiday as well. The Russian Imperial Court and, in particular, Czar Alexander III and Nicholas III were enamored with the Faberge eggs and ordered as many as 50 for their wives and other female members of the royal household as Easter gifts. Each egg held a surprise within it, inspired by the first egg that was commissioned for Empress Maria Feodorovna, which was known famously as the ‘hen egg’. It was made of gold with a white enamel shell that opened to reveal a yolk. This, in turn, opened to reveal a hen (hence the name), which further revealed a minute replica of the imperial crown and a ruby pendant. The artistry of its jeweller was rewarded by his appointment as ‘goldsmith to the Imperial Court’.
Another loved Easter tradition is Easter Egg Roll, a very popular White House calendar event. This year, on the Monday after Easter, as many as 35,000 people will gather on the White House’s South Lawn to participate in the event, keeping this much loved tradition alive. Every year, a special set of keepsake eggs with the US President and First Lady’s signatures are created to commemorate the day. In other parts of the world, Easter egg hunts—much like treasure hunts—are devised for children.
But what of the edible kind? Not all of us have the pleasure of owning a Faberge egg after all. Chef Joe Manavalan, former pastry chef with the Oberoi group, says traditional recipes of the Easter egg—earlier made with marzipan, gun paste and candy—have been replaced with ones having more creative ingredients. Most popular are chocolate Easter eggs and the Easter Bunny made entirely of chocolate eggs of different sizes for the bunny’s ears, body and face. It’s usually a whole lot of chocolate in one go, but no one really complains.
However, the most enduring legacy of Easter is its inclusive spirit that embraces and attracts (much like Christmas) people from around the world and of different religious persuasions. Its traditions have evolved over time, germinating in religious practices that further grew into mainstream events of celebration and inclusiveness. Easter Day Parade in New York, which takes place from 49th street to 57th street on the day, initially began as a ‘hangout’ spot of sorts when people would come to Fifth Avenue to get a peek at the fashionable ladies of the time, who would stroll the streets after the Sunday church service, wearing for the first time the latest fashions, as spring was ushered in. In time, it came to be a buoyant parade, with bonnets and hats still playing a starring role in the celebrations.
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in Indiaand abroad.