Orthodox Easter eggs – Coming together to share traditions

Sunday 8 April is Easter Sunday in the Orthodox world this year.  Those who follow the  religion and / or its associated cultural practices mark the day by preparing coloured eggs for the day’s feast, symbolising new life and renewed beginnings.

Vesna, Dunja and Ella – mother, daughter and daughter- / sister-in-law – have come together today to colour their eggs and bring us this piece, reflecting on what this cultural practice means for them.  Enjoy photos of their egg-colouring process, and scroll down to the bottom of the piece for instructions on how you can colour eggs this way, too!

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Ella: “Rituals express and hold space for meaning and spirituality.  But the word ‘ritual’ feels incongruous with modern life to me, saturated as it is with the values of consumerism and, in many ways, my own life, as I belong to a culture that has implanted northern hemisphere rituals onto our southern hemisphere, and come from a family that has moved away from religion and its rituals.  In finding my own ways to do ritual across the two hemispheres, the things that have mattered most to me are strengthening bonds to people and place by connecting with family, friends and community, and observing the natural world around us.”

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Vesna: “Being born in the northern hemisphere, my childhood memories of Easter centre around the waking-up of nature in spring, new life blooming, the sun, warmth, and the simple pleasures of feeling free and happy.  Over time, Orthodox Easter, and the beautiful traditions surrounding it, have gained a special spiritual and cultural significance in my life.  It has profoundly grown in its meaning as I’ve grown older, which I feel is somewhat unusual – usually we remember and, throughout our lives build on, our childhood memories of these traditions, and the meaning of these memories solidifies in a magical way, becoming part of our inner perception of life and our place in it.  For me, loving Easter and what it means has grown from the inside out, organically, over a long time, and it has been an interesting, satisfying and very special experience, for which I am grateful.

After moving to Australia with my young family, I got to appreciate our religious and cultural traditions at a different, much deeper level.  I think it was a result of my need to feel I belonged, in this country so far away from where I grew up.  I wanted to belong to my people, my culture; to something where I felt welcome, loved and accepted.  Suddenly, I realised I had those special rituals, cultural values and experiences to hang onto from the deepest part of my soul, and – in that – hand them over to my children, and now their partners and my grandchildren.  Colouring eggs is one of these many special traditions we enjoy together as a family.”

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Dunja: “Having grown up in a migrant family, Easter has always been part of my Serbian world – the world I share with my family, with other migrants here in Australia, and presumably also with people living in Serbia (though I can’t really be sure, never having spent an April or May in the Balkans).  Each of these groups, and the individuals within them, engage in the cultural practices associated with Easter – such as colouring eggs – in different ways.  Some use bright, happy dyes to colour their eggs; some use cute stickers to inject a sense of childish play (and to help young ones connect to the holiday), while others use natural substances such as onion peels (as we have done) or beetroot juice to give their eggs a special coating.

The part I think I enjoy the most about Easter is seeing all the different ways people engage in the religious / cultural practices, and enjoying the sense of community it creates, even if we’re a minority here in Australia.  From viewing people’s baskets of painted eggs on Facebook, to discussing different ways to decorate the eggs; it makes me feel like we are all working on a common project, and can learn from each other.  (That said, I have always been awed by people who draw intricate geometric shapes on their eggs in candle wax before plunging them into their chosen dyeing substance.  It creates the most wonderful effect that I have never managed to achieve…)  Sharing this with my mum, sister-in-law and young niece continues the tradition.”

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How to dye eggs using onion peels:

This section explains how we coloured our eggs so that they would have plant-leaf silhouettes on them.  It can be a bit fiddly, but the end result is beautiful!

Ingredients / materials:

  • A dozen eggs (or however many you want);
  • A bag of brown onion peel (hint: you can usually find a bunch in the grocery section of your local supermarket);
  • A pot and water, to boil the eggs in;
  • A selection of pretty leaves from your garden (we used parsley, Japanese maple, dill and any other leaves we could find – just make sure they’re smaller than your eggs);
  • Clean pantyhose – the thinner the better;
  • A ball of string; and
  • A little vegetable oil, for shine.

Instructions:

Gather a plateful of pretty leaves from your garden, ensuring you have one leaf for each egg you wish to dye.  Give the leaves a quick wash, dry them and put them aside.  Wash the eggs in warm water or rub them down using a damp cloth to remove any dirt or ink from them.

Next, place a leaf onto an egg, ensuring that the leaf is spread nicely on the surface of the egg’s shell.  Put the egg-and-leaf into the toe-end of your pantyhose – this will help the leaf stay in place on the egg’s surface, while allowing the rest of the egg to become coloured in the water.  (If the pantyhose are too thick, the dye from the onion peels won’t be able to get through.)

Stretch the pantyhose tight around the egg, and then gather it at the other end of the egg, tying it off tightly with some string.  Cut the end off the pantyhose, so that you have a little package (as shown in the photos), and then repeat the process with all other eggs.

Place the onion peels into a metal pot, ensuring it is big enough to fit all your eggs.  Place all the pantyhose-wrapped eggs into the pot, and cover with water.  Put the pot onto the stove and bring the water to a boil.  Once the water is boiling, keep the heat on and the eggs boiling for 30-40 minutes.  Switch the heat off and allow the eggs to cool in the water.

Once the eggs have cooled, take them out of the water and cut into the pantyhose to release the eggs.  Throw away the pantyhose and leaves and dry the eggs using paper towel.  Place the eggs into a bowl or basket for serving.

For a little extra shine, rub the eggs with vegetable oil!

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Ella Kurz is a third generation Australian whose German/Austrian heritage feels like a special part of what makes her Australian.  Her partner and father of her children is a first generation Australian.  Ella feels that both of these parts of her life continue her – and, more broadly, Australia’s – story of migration.

Dunja Cvjetićanin was born in Yugoslavia in 1989 and moved to Australia with her family as a baby. She is one of the Founding Co-Editors of be:longing and enjoys interacting with others who feel a similar connection to other places and cultures as she does.

Vesna Cvjetićanin moved to Australia from Yugoslavia in 1990, and has found a great amount of expression and solace through poetry.  Vesna is currently writing a book of poems exploring her migration, identity, personal and family history, as well as love, parenthood and the nature of life, called “15 Lines of Thoughts”.  

© Vesna Cvjetićanin, Dunja Cvjetićanin and Ella Kurz, 2018