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Easter eggs-travaganza

Just before the Bulgarian Orthodox Easter celebration, Bulgarian kitchens will be busy with the hustle and bustle of Easter egg preparations. Bulgaria’s age old Easter tradition dictates the giving of hand painted hen’s eggs as gifts rather than the commercial chocolate egg of the Western tradition.

Much time and effort goes into boiling, dyeing and painting the eggs ready for Easter Sunday and whilst the odd chocolate egg now appears in supermarkets, it is the painted hen’s eggs that still excite children across the country.


Easter Egg Folklore

Easter eggs have been around for centuries; they were an old pagan symbol representing the reincarnation of the earth each spring and were adopted as part of the Christian religion to symbolize rebirth and the resurrection of Christ. Ancient civilizations held the belief that the world hatched from an egg; references have been found in early Egyptian documents dating back to the New Kingdom era around 14–11 century BC, which claimed that one of the pagan gods, Tot was created in an egg. Birth from an egg is mentioned in the “Book of the Dead”, and in the “Texts of the Sarcophagi,” which relays the story of Osiris and Set, two brothers representing good and evil. One of the brothers used a wooden egg, which he dyed with red soil to give to his children. When he went home to give them the egg they were sleeping so he left the egg on the pillow next to them in the hope that it would be the first thing they saw when they awoke. Whilst he slept he dreamt that an old, bearded man called Grandfather Easter told him that an evil wizard would come to his house the next day to take the children away. The old man in the dream told him to clutch the red egg in his hand and everything would be ok. True to form, the next day the man was visited by the evil wizard riding in a carriage pulled by a three-headed dragon. The wizard stopped at the house there were bolts of thunder and fire. As the father cuddled his children the red egg shone brightly and he remembered the words of the wise old man, grabbed the egg and freed himself and his family from the evil sorcerer. He grabbed the egg in his hand and held it high above his head and evil is one and the same.

Easter eggs have carried other meanings throughout time; in the Middle Ages they represented the four components of the world; the shell signified the Earth, the membrane was the air, the albumen was the water and the yolk was fire. In Orthodox Christianity the red egg – often wooden- found on every Bulgarian table at this time represents the Christ’s blood spilled on the cross and the egg has the meaning of life or resurrection. In neighbouring Romania another Orthodox Christian country, Mary’ Jesus’ mother is said to have left a basket of eggs at his feet as he hung on the cross and his blood spilled onto the eggs from his wounds.

In some parts of the world, modern commercialism has added further spin to the significance of giving Easter eggs taking away all religious meaning with the substitution of chocolate or plastic eggs filled with novelties or more sweets delivered by the Easter bunny, who hides them in the garden for children to find on Easter morning.This tradition is taking off in Bulgaria slowly!

Decorated Hen’s Eggs

Around 100 million eggs will be boiled hard, dyed and painted in Bulgaria alone today, the equivalent of around 30 to 35 eggs for each household. Considering that Bulgaria is one of several nations where Orthodox Christianity is the leading religion, this makes for a lot of egg painting! Bulgarians say, “Easter is not Easter without a red egg,” and this is the first egg to be dyed, once dry, this egg is put next to the icon representing the home. The rest of the eggs are dipped in a variety of dyes, vinegar is added to the water to intensify the colour and sometimes vegetable oil is added to give a marbled effect. Some people draw crosses on the boiled egg with candle wax before dipping it into the dye and this will leave the waxed area visible, whilst others press a leaf onto the egg and wrap it in gauze so that the leaf pattern shows thought the dye.

The Giving and Receiving of Eggs

Everyone takes an egg to the midnight church service on Easter Saturday and after the service this egg is cracked on the church wall. On Easter Sunday, people visit their neighbours and family and exchange the decorated eggs. Children go from house to house collecting eggs and everyone will crack at least one egg together by knocking the top of a friend’s egg with their one egg. The friend then does the same their egg and whoever has a cracked egg has to eat it! The collected eggs are put in a basket on the table and eaten throughout the course of the next week.