Which came first, Easter or the Egg?
Photo courtesy Sweet Paul Magazine
I grew up in Northern New England and as a child, the annual ritual of dying eggs was as much a marker of spring as the crocus buds that emerged before all of the other perennials, just after the last bit of snow melted. My grandmother always bought us an egg dying kit with the little pellets that fizz in cups of vinegar as they dissolve. With the included “invisible” wax crayon we would mark white eggs with our initials, hearts, and other secret messages that were only revealed after the eggs were doused in pastel pigments.
When I was in middle school I was introduced to the craft of Ukranian egg design called Pysanky, a process similar to that of batik wherein wax and dye are layered in a multi-step process to produce intricate, brilliantly pigmented eggs. There are specific symbols in Pysanky that are reflective of Ukranian folk culture, and we would follow meticulous instructions to render the colors and symbols in the traditional way. This was my first introduction to the notion of dyed eggs being emblematic of more than a compliment to marshmallow peeps, chocolate bunnies, and jellybeans.
Photo courtesy Instructibles
Dyed eggs are believed to pre-date Christianity and many claim their symbolism to be deeply rooted in Paganism. Egg symbolism is found in cultural spring rituals that are not tied to the Easter story and the egg on its own has long been considered a symbol of fertility and new life. Thus, eating eggs to invoke these qualities is prescribed by many folk cultures during many times of year, not just spring. In the Easter tradition, dyed eggs are specifically used to symbolize the boulder enclosing Jesus’ tomb which was rolled to the side (hence, the popular Easter Egg Roll) for his resurrection. In Orthodox and Eastern Christian traditions, Easter eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood that Jesus shed on the cross.
Despite the historic and religious symbolism of the egg, egg dying is a widely practiced ritual that many families enjoy each spring regardless of religion. When my child became old enough to partake in this activity, I was interested in finding alternatives to store-bought dyes for health and sustainability reasons. Over the years we have experimented with utilizing different foods including red onion skins, turmeric, and beets to pigment white eggs, varying our recipes and “sit” times to see how bright we can make them. Better Homes & Gardens has a useful guide to many food-based dyes and techniques for achieving your desired hues. Sweet Paul describes how to use cabbage skin to create beautiful marbled eggs.
Photo courtesy Blue Bird Kisses
More recently we discovered the technique of wrapping eggs in pieces of silk which, when boiled in water and vinegar, transfer the pattern of the silk onto the eggs. This has become my very favorite way to color eggs because the results are nothing short of show-stopping and there is no messy spillage or stained hands. It’s also a fun way to upcycle old ties that are long past their fashion heyday but look spectacular on an egg! Part of our ritual now includes a trip to the thrift store to pick out a few old ties for this annual project. PRO TIP: You must use 100% silk or the patterns will not transfer. The blog Our Best Bites has a how-to with all the info you need to make silk dyed eggs.
Photo courtesy Instructables