Just as pagan customs are part of our Christmas celebrations, they are also part of our Easter commemorations. Long before the beginnings of Christianity, Egyptians and Romans exchanged gifts of eggs their friends that, to them, were symbols of life. Before Christianity, there was a celebration of Eostre, a goddess of spring and fertility, which was a festival to celebrate the coming of spring, and marked the regeneration of life in plants that had been dormant the winter months, and a time when many animals mated and produced offspring. The hen’s egg, which was familiar to the people of that time, was a symbol fertility as well as an important source of protein. During pre-Christian times, pagan people used to decorate these eggs colors that represented familiar flowers to celebrate the Spring Equinox, (which was March 20th this year) and the return of the sun god. The return of the sun god meant the return of longer and sunnier days. In other words, the spring and summer light brought the growth food to eat and animals to hunt; it was a time when the hunger of winter would be forgotten. And it also meant the return of chicken eggs from any chickens that had survived the winter. The egg-laying process of chickens is greatly affected the amount of light they’re exposed to, and they simply didn’t lay eggs during the severe winters. So when our ancestors were celebrating spring and the fact that they had survived another winter, they colored hen’s eggs by placing flower petals or leaves the shells, then wrapping the eggs in onion skins, and boiling them. Your ancestors who lived before the Egyptians and Romans also gave decorated eggs to each other gifts.
When Christianity came along, people continued the pagan custom of decorating and giving eggs as presents, and eventually the custom, already practiced in the spring and Easter time, became incorporated into Easter traditions. Eggs became the symbol of Christ’s resurrection, and their decorations were adapted to have religious significance. In the early days of Christianity, eggs were dyed red to represent the blood Christ. And some of those old traditions and superstitions never died .
According to one pre-Christian superstition that many cultures still have fun with, anyone opening a boiled egg on Easter Day and finding double yolks would be blessed double good luck. In some parts of the world, plowmen still put an egg the first furrow they cut, believing it will boost their crop yield, just like their ancestors did. In other parts of the world farmers plant a red egg in their crops to ward storms. And people have been rolling decorated eggs since long before Christianity. This game used to be played to imitate the sun’s movement as it returned the darkness of winter. Egg rolling was incorporated the Christian Easter supposedly to symbolize the stone rolling back from Christ’s tomb. Egg rolling is still popular in the United States and in England, as well as a few other European countries. So popular, in fact, that the White House has been holding an annual egg roll the White House lawn since 1878. The idea is to push an egg through grass a long-handled spoon faster than the other competitors, and nowadays the WH uses special wooden eggs.
The famous eggs that Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II commissioned The House of Fabergé, the Russian Imperial Jeweler, to create for their wives and mothers 1885 and 1917, clearly illustrate the important symbolism of eggs. They were members of the Christian Russian Orthodox Church, and supposedly very romantic men. It is thought that Peter Carl Fabergé made about 50 of these eggs, but only 43 can be accounted now. The two jeweled eggs that had been ordered for Easter, 1917, were never delivered because the Russian Revolution began and all the members of the imperial family were executed. Mr. Fabergé himself was able to flee Switzerland, but he died there two years later. But his brand lived on although it has been sold several times. Right now Fabergé Limited owns it, and it makes egg-themed jewelry. You can see the original eggs in museums all the world, including the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The British Royal family owns three eggs, but don’t often show them to people like you and me. If you don’t get to big museums much, just keep an eye open for the missing ones your local antique shops. You might get lucky. For example, an American man bought a decorated egg in an antique shop and then, years after buying it, decided to check it on Google.
That’s when he found that his egg was worth $33 million dollars. It just goes to show how browsing through antique shops and purchasing pretty things that seem to have no purpose can change your life. (Alexander III=aka The Peacemaker, Emperor of Russia, King of Poland & Grand Duke of Finland; reigned from 1881-1894)
Passover, the Jewish holiday, falls the end of March this year. Passover is a major 8-day holiday, and one of the ceremonial ingredients on Jewish tables is always a hardboiled egg, symbolizing rebirth and the continuity of life. The Portuguese word Páscoa, by the way, is derived the Hebrew word Pessach, or Passover in English. And the English word Easter comes from the pagan goddess of spring, Eostre.
Spanish conquistadors took chocolate to Europe after discovering it in Mexico in 1519. Before long, its use became widespread in cooking and confectionery. In a relatively short time, chocolate eggs, which at first were small and solid, replaced the hen’s eggs. But many modern chocolate eggs, or the packaging they come in, are often embossed the same flowers our pagan ancestors used. If you eat an egg in the near future, be it a hen’s egg or a quail egg or a chocolate egg, stop for a moment and consider your ancestors, those strong survivors who celebrated eggs of one kind or another almost the beginning of civilization as we know it.
The word cliffhanger comes from cliffs. Duh. Cliffs are vertical, or nearly vertical, rocks that have been formed by erosion and weathering. There are lots of famous cliffs, but the first ones that come to my mind are the White Cliffs of Dover, probably because there was a popular World War II song about them that was part of my childhood, and also because they are on the historical English coastline.
When one thinks of cliffhangers, England and its gothic novels always come to mind. Cliffhangers are the kind of story, book or movie that uses suspense either at the end of an episode or a scene. A good example was the way the final episode of Game of Thrones, season 5, was done. Jon Snow was dead. Or was he? Those of us who sweated it out until season 6 was aired were never really sure. The writers used old-fashioned melodrama, suspense and uncertainty, and the audience was left as if hanging from a cliff in a state of tension and apprehension. And that’s a true cliffhanger.
This part of the blog will not be able to offer any nail-biting cliffhangers, but it will have classes in series, and I hope they will be interesting enough that you will want to come back and read what happens next, even if you don’t lose sleep anticipating the next chapter. Enjoy.