Thursday, April 09, 2009

Not-Specifically American History: EASTER EGGS YUM

Ukrainian pysanka... PRETTY.
The other night, we were having a conversation with friends about Easter because we were all wearing bunny ears (obviously), and somebody wondered where the Easter egg tradition came from, and I could not immediately retrieve the knowledge from my booze- and internet-addled brain. So I'm looking that shit up on the 'Pedia! But in the beginning, by which I mean in the pre-Christian era, eggs were Pagan symbols of rebirth and springtime and all that Wicca/Maypole/environmental whatever. Eggs have been painted for thousands of years, including by the ancient Persians for their new year (Nowrooz). Obvs, in Europe the Jesus people decided to compromise with the local heathen traditions and made the Saxon goddess Eostre's Vernal Equinox feast (and her association with the spring hare) into Happy Jesus Resurrection Day. Germanic languages derive their names for the holiday from Eostre (or Ostore), while most others take their names from the Hebrew pasch, for Passover, except for Serbians and some other Orthodox-types who use their words for "resurrection." Words are cool. Some of the appropriated egg traditions morphed into stuff like: -We make 'em red for Jesus' blood! -The shell represents the tomb! -Mary Magdalene was totally into eggs! -Let's have the priest bless our eggs and then we'll bring them to the cemetery for our dead relatives because the top priority for corpses is decorative breakfast food! Some of the egg-y associations with Easter come from abstention from eggs and dairy during Lent. Then you'd have to boil them to keep them good until you could eat them again. In England and other places there was a tradition of egg tapping or "jarping" that involved tapping eggs together and trying to make yours not crack or something. There's egg dancing, hunting, and rolling, like at the White House, where the pretty pretty Obamas live now:
Dolley Madison, the wife of President James Madison, began the event in 1814 and hundreds of children brought their decorated eggs to join in games. The original site was on the grounds of the United States Capitol, but in 1877 a new lawn was planted and the gardeners cancelled the event. Congress then passed a law making it illegal to use the grounds as a children's playground. At the request of a number of children, including his own, the then President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife Lucy Hayes brought the event to the White House lawns. The practice was abandoned during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, and revived by Mamie during her husband's term in office. Mrs. Eisenhower opened the event to black children for the first time. In 2009, Barack Obama opened the Easter Egg Roll to same sex couples.
So, apparently egg-decorating is an ancient tradition in Slavic cultures, and the most famous examples are pysanka (something like "written on") from Ukraine. Some crazy wax-and-dye thing is used to make them awesome. Eggs had long been held sacred, or at least as magical items by Ukrainians before they got Jesus. Birds were able to fly close to heaven, where the sun god Dazhboh lived, whose eight-sided star symbol is still common in pysanka-decorating. There's an elaborate meaning behind the patterns and colors that you will have to consult the Wikipedia article for. Also, the eggs are often dried out over time or the insides are blown out. Traditionally, they were decorated by the ladies of the family (shock shock shockily wock), and often fertilized eggs were used for luck. Ha-a-a-a-lei-lu-oo-ya. I will not be dyeing eggs because I am lazy. But maybe I will make myself scrambled ones (omelet takes too much precision) for Easter afternoon lunch or whatever meal you call it when you get up at 3:00 p.m. DEATH IS CONQUERED, MAN IS FREE, CHRIST HAS WON THE VICTORY!

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