Easter is one of the most important religious observances of the year in the Orthodox calendar. This holiday is not just a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it brings people peace, joy, and hope. Both children and adults are looking forward to a big family feast held on Easter Sunday that falls this year on April 12, 2015, featuring numerous Easter treats including Easter bread Kulich, Paskha, and of course Easter eggs.
Easter Eggs Tradition
Easter egg decorating is a tradition shared by many cultures throughout the world, from children using stickers and vegetable dye, to professional artists creating sophisticated and elaborate designs. Though now, egg decorating is associated with the Christian Easter, the roots of the tradition go back to over 60,000 years ago in Africa and about 5,000 years ago in Egypt. The pagan ritual of welcoming spring, with the egg being a symbol of fertility and revival, was later adopted by Christians.
The tradition of dyeing Easter eggs started in the beginning of the 17th century. Traditionally Orthodox Easter eggs are dyed in red, the color that is symbolic of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Red signifies his blood, the shell represents the tomb, and the cracking of eggs is the release and the resurrection.
Later the tradition of coloring eggs for Easter has evolved, using more complex designs and techniques, and especially spread throughout the Slavic communities, including Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries.
Krashenki – Orthodox Easter Eggs Tradition
Krashenki are Easter eggs painted in one color. Initially, Orthodox Easter eggs were red, orange, or brown, and only later such colors as yellow, green, blue were used in decoration patterns. Orthodox Russians and Ukrainians used edible herbs, as well as local or exotic plants to prepare dyes for Easter eggs decoration. The first natural dye (widely used to this day) was made by boiling onion peel in water. Green dyes were prepared from clover leaves, parsley and rosemary. Yellow dyes from saffron, cumin, weak broth of onion peel and lime tea steep.
Depending on the method of Easter eggs decoration in Orthodox tradition, different techniques were called Krashenki and Pysanki. Later, the Russians and Ukrainians started to make Easter eggs either very simple or sophisticated and exclusive made of precious metals and stones.
Pysanka – Ukranian Easter Eggs
Traditional Ukranian Easter eggs, pysanka, are ornately decorated eggs that use the wax-relief method. These eggs are embellished with traditional Ukrainian motifs, including the Orthodox cross, plants, birds, and other objects of nature. This ornaments have originated during pagan times as a ritual, celebrating the god of sun and rebirth. Later when Christianity came to Ukraine, egg decorating was adapted as an Easter tradition.
The Pysanka Easter eggs are surrounded by legends and superstitions, especially as a way to scare away evil spirits. Each design and color has their own meaning. Each family would usually have at least 50 eggs on Easter Sunday to give away as gifts to relatives and friends.
Fabergé Eggs in Russia
The best known decorative Easter eggs were made in Russia by well-known jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé. Fabergé was first commissioned in 1885 by Russian Tsar Alexander III who wanted to give his wife, Maria Fedorovna a special Easter gift.
The first commissioned Imperial Fabergé egg was simple at first glance: a realistic looking egg made of gold coated in white enamel. Inside the egg there was a gold yolk, that also opened and contained a minute golden hen with ruby eyes. The hen also opened to reveal a tiny egg shaped ruby pendant.
The tsarina loved the gift so much that her husband made it an annual Easter ritual to present her a new Fabergé egg. Their son continued the tradition, commissioning two new eggs each year for both his mother and wife. About 50 unique Easter eggs (known as the Imperial Eggs) were created by Fabergé for the royal family between 1885 and 1917. All Fabergé eggs were created from gold or other precious metals, decorated with gemstones, and covered in a thin layer of translucent enamel. Each with its own unique intricate design, the tiny eggs opened, hiding a surprise inside.