by Ian Makay
Meanwhile, fertility and vernal festivities were hardly limited to fields and livestock. Courtship rites also spawned creative developments in egg art. Those historical references which exist clearly indicate that decorative Chinese eggs were created by ordinary people as tokens of affection and presented as gifts to potential marriage partners. This was no less true in Europe and in cultures later influenced by European trade and colonization.
Lenten love crops up in Luxembourg on Bretzelsonndeg (Pretzel Sunday). Celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent, it marks the day a young man will give a special, ornate, pretzel-shaped cake to the woman he would like to court. If she feels similarly disposed, she responds three weeks later on Easter Sunday with a gift of sweets or a decorated egg. According to practice, the larger the cake, the larger the egg must be. During leap year the order is reversed-she gives the cake and he gives the egg. Married couples can also participate, assuming they pair up with their spouses, I suppose.
Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia all feature unique variations on Easter egg love. In some areas, messages of love are painted onto hard-boiled, colored eggs and given to that special someone one wants to impress, while other communities conceal such amorous notes on slips of paper planted inside hollowed (or blown) decorated eggs. Blown eggs are also at the heart of several folk tales involving the creation of the original decorated Easter egg tree, found, so the legend goes, below the window of a young woman one Easter and decorated with blown eggs during the night by the man proclaiming his love for her.
While many of the traditional symbols and lore at the heart of egg art and Easter have been obscured with time and replaced by more commercialized imitations, the craftsmanship so central to its creation has also become increasingly scarce. Fewer artisans, professional or amateur, have invested the time to learn and master the crafts of painting and etching eggs passed down by local virtuosi, now predominantly elderly and too often themselves limited by age. This is no less true of European Easter egg art, than it is of African ostrich egg etching, Middle Eastern and Central European egg beading, or Asian styles of egg lacquering, painting, and sculpture.
Our global view of nature, the seasons, our holy days, and holidays have undergone a sea change, replaced by a new set of personal and societal priorities and concerns. In the process, existence of egg art and the history and meaning behind its varied forms seem, much like the egg itself-resilient, beautiful, strong, yet uniquely fragile. Culinary art has, in many ways, gone through a similar transformation and come out better for it. Like the phoenix, so often associated with it, perhaps the art of egg crafting too will rise from it own ashes and be reborn a wonderful and welcome centerpiece to life's daily and seasonal celebrations.
Also visit the main Easter page. Includes Spring, Easter and Passover recipes, tips, lore and more.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998. Modified March 2007.
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