by Ian Makay
April rolls in with a foolish prank or two but quickly turns to more serious matters this year as the Passover and Easter celebrations fall quickly upon us, followed by continuing worldwide celebrations of spring. Most importantly, April marks the beginning of a two-month cycle of festivities featuring that most basic and vital of all foods, you guessed it, the egg!
No mere garnish on the blue plate of history, the egg has played a central role in the springtime rituals of a broad array of ancient cultures. Through these pre-Christian religious and superstitious practices, the egg also became intertwined with the preparations leading up to and a part of Easter and Passover.
Notions of the cosmic egg, whose spirit is born, dies, and is reborn, are a core of various Vedic religious writings. Hindu teaching describes Brahma and Prajapati each forming an egg and then emerging from it. Ancient Egypt's scarab egg was yet another resurrection symbol and hieroglyphs often depict the Egyptian god Osiris returning to life from a broken egg shell.
Perhaps the most famous legend of rebirth remains the phoenix. Writing before 400 B.C., the Greek historian, Herodotus, described a mystical bird which lived for centuries, died in a curtain of flames, and was reborn from an egg it itself had laid. In an appropriate historic parallel, numerous cultures have reshaped the phoenix legend itself continually reborn: as the ancient Roman symbol of power, the eagle; as "tzarpitza", the ancient Russian firebird; and as an analogy for Christ's resurrection in early Christian theology.
Various works of art depict the risen Christ atop an eggshell. Some early Christian liturgists even went so far as to make the egg a symbol for the Eucharist itself, maintaining that it was every good Christian's duty to eat at least one egg on Easter. Similarly, the Armenian Orthodox Christian tradition created the "eggs of the Cross" linking these two symbols of eternal life from death.
While the egg has a prominent place in Judaism, there is a question of which came first the Easter or Passover egg? Not an easy answer.
Judaism employs the colored egg in a number of its celebrations, most notably Lag B'Omer, which falls chronologically between the Jewish holiday of Passover and the Christian feast of Pentecost. Lag B'Omer is celebrated in many places with a family picnic featuring colored eggs that represent the rainbow and god's promise to Noah and the Jews not to destroy the world by flood again.
Until 325 A.D., the Christian Church observed all the traditional Jewish holy days and celebrated Passover and Easter simultaneously. The Easter season itself is also called the Paschal season by Christians, a derivation from the Hebrew word for Passover, "Pesach". A local German meteorological axiom immortalizes the interconnection and proximity of the two festivals: "When matzo bread and Easter eggs coincide, the sun shines through the wintry mist."
Historians seem inclined to believe that the timing of Easter in relation to Passover is a Christian convention; the creation of the Christian Easter egg is derived from numerous ancient spiritual traditions, including Judaism; but the Jewish practice of colored eggs for Passover is borrowed from Christian Paschal celebrations. Barring those places where Jews and Christians lived together, historical accounts suggest that Jewish communities did not color eggs for their Passover celebrations.
Whatever the eggsact explanation or your personal spiritual practices, here's to April! I hope it proves eggsciting for you!
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007
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