One of the most symbolic foods to be prepared for the Greek Orthodox Easter, red eggs are traditionally dyed on Holy Thursday, or ‘Kokkinopempti’ (Red Thursday), although eggs may also be dyed on Holy Saturday or any other day of Lent, with the exception of Good Friday. The eggs are coloured red to symbolise the blood that Christ shed on the cross at the crucifixion.
The red dyed egg represents the blood of Christ and the rebirth of Christ and the egg itself represents the Virgin Mary, her fertility and life. From ancient times, the egg has been a symbol of the renewal of life, and the message of the red eggs is victory over death. Some superstitions have grown out of Greek traditions and customs, one of which relates to the dyed red egg. In order to ward off evil, a household should place their first-dyed red egg where the home has their icons displayed.
Traditionally, the eggs are taken to church and after midnight mass, when Christ has risen, the faithful will take their eggs and crack them with each other. The tradition states you crack the nose of the egg against the bottom of the other egg. The person who has the last unbroken egg remaining receives the good luck. Also, red eggs are cracked during the Easter Sunday lunch feast and are cracked around the table by family members and friends prior to lunch being served. The cracking of the egg symbolises the opening of the Tomb and the resurrection of Christ.
In some parts of Greece, on the Sunday before Clean Monday (Kathara Deftera) there is a custom to eat an egg at the end of the meal, following which the accompanying phrase is said: “With an egg I close my mouth and with an egg I shall open my mouth once again.” The closure of one’s mouth represents the six week period of Great Lent and the egg which breaks the fast is the dyed red egg which is broken to celebrate Christ’s resurrection following Anastasi. One of the many things that help to make Easter special is the tradition of breaking the Red Egg. In most Greek households, baskets are filled with dyed red eggs which are offered to newly arrived guests to select and partake in the egg cracking ritual with their hosts.
Red eggs are also used to decorate Easter Tsoureki and ‘avgoules’ or large Koulorakia.
Dyeing red eggs is a wonderful tradition to start with your family, and a great way to get the children involved. Have them help by decorating their own eggs with patterns and experimenting with food dyes. Not only does this ensure children are part of this tradition, but it also allows them to learn more about Greek culture. Discuss with them the meaning of dyeing eggs red at Easter, and what it represents. It’s educational as well as fun for the children and a great way for children to connect with grandparents too.
Nowadays, it’s not just red dye that’s used, other coloured dyes are available for use such as green and blue. You can also buy stickers for the eggs as decorations or create your own using leaves and cloth. Place a small leaf or pressed flower on the egg shell. Put the egg in a nylon stocking, tie a knot tightly at each end so the leaf or flower does not move. Place the stocking with eggs into the dye and follow the recipe provided. When the eggs are cooked, allow to cool before removing from stocking and polish with olive oil.
How to dye red eggs
1. Select a dozen eggs, small-to-medium in size, and clean any external material.
2. In a stainless steel saucepan, boil five cups of water with a quarter cup of vinegar. Lower heat and simmer for half an hour.
3. In a glass bowl, strain store bought dye as per instructions (these may change in relation to what dye you purchase – dye is commercially available at Greek delicatessens around Australia) and let sit till it comes to room temperature.
4. In the saucepan, add the dye and then slowly add the eggs – they should create one layer at the bottom of the saucepan completely covered in the dyed water.
5. Bring to the boil over medium heat, and then reduce heat to low. Cover and let the eggs simmer in the dyed water.
6. Start checking for colour at 12-15 minutes of simmering. Do not simmer longer than 20 minutes. If you feel the eggs are not red enough, leave in pot and remove from heat. When the pot is cooled enough, place in refrigerator and let sit until you get the desired colour.
7. Remove eggs from the dyed water with a slotted spoon and let cool on racks.
8. When they are cool, coat the eggs with olive oil and polish them to a shine using paper towels.
9. Refrigerate until they are ready to use.