GEOFFREY HUMPHRYS explores the symbolism and customs relating to Easter eggs
Cross uphill. He immediately left all his wares to assist him. When he returned from Calvary, he not only found his eggs intact, but each and every one had been miraculously coloured and decorated.
GGS COLOURED RED as a symbol of the blood shed at the Cruxifixion were introduced into the Church at Easter by Pope Paul V (1605 1621). Every year priests blessed thousands of them; they were then taken away and given to special kinsmen, Mends, and neighbours as Easter gifts to be eaten in thankfulness. Being a forbidden food throughout Lent, the re-appearance of eggs on the festive tables became one of the minor joys of Easter.
An egg boiled really hard will last for many
years-and, iirtheNorth of England, some were beautifully decorated and coloured, then put in tall glasses to be used as ornamental display in the home. There are several such specimens, originally decorated for the poet's
children, in the Wordsworth Museum at Grasmere.
Most of the coloured eggs never survived for a year; they were more often broken in one of the many vigorous egg customs associated with Eastertide.
Folklorists maintain that egg-rolling began as a pagan 'solar rite'. It remains, however, a traditional Easter ritual still observed in the north of England, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Ulster, where coloured hard-boiled eggs are rolled down a slope until they crack. This is another practice adopted by the early Christians, used as a symbol of the stone being rolled away from the door of our Lord's tomb.
There are many ways of colouring and decorating eggs; some quite simple and others requiring considerable artistic talent. They can be dipped or boiled in a prepared dye to give one specific colour.
succession of dyes an masking with beeswax are required to achieve some of the exquisitely coloured Easter eggs prepared in many countries.
Decorating of Easter eggs is a traditional peasant art in Eastern and Central Europe, with varying designs in different regions. In former
Yugoslavia, for instance the letters "X V" are always featured in the design; they represent "Christos Vaskrese" meaning "Christ is risen". Russian eggs are decorated with miniatures of Our Lord and saints.
In some places the eggrolling today has become competitive, in that children seek to find the eggs which remain unbroken for the full run of the local course. Any handy bank, hillock or sloping piece of ground can be used for egg-rolling, although in many districts traditional sites are used each year.
At Preston, Lancashire, on Easter Monday afternoon, large crowds of adults and children gather each year in Avenham Park to roll their gaily coloured eggs down the steep hillside leading to the River Ribble. At Pemith, Cumbria, the rolling takes place at the castle moat; at Derby on Bunker's Hill and at Edinburgh down Arthur's Seat. At some places oranges are also brought to roll with the eggs, and on Dunstable Downs in Berkshire, hundreds of children gather every Good Friday to roll oranges down Pascombe Pit.
Every year at Easter, egg-rolling takes place on the lawns of the White House in Washington. Only children under 12 years of age may take part, and no adults are allowed inside the grounds unless accompanied by a child. Hardboiled, gaily decorated eggs are rolled from child to child down the terraces. Those whose eggs arrive at the bottom uncracked are the winners.