Thursday, 9 April 2009


Easter eggs and the Easter Bunny

Since the time of the ancient Teutonic world the egg has been regarded as a bringer of luck and symbol of fertility, a joyful gift to celebrate the return of spring.

Although egg painting was known in pre-Christian Greece the custom did not reach Northern Europe until the 17th Century when the Turks conquered Byzantium, causing many of the inhabitants to flee northwards, taking their traditions with them, including the custom of painting eggs.

Written records show that the Easter Bunny as egg bringer first appeared on German soil in 1682, in the company of cockerels, foxes and donkeys, who were all deemed "responsible" for the delivery of eggs. It seems most likely that the rabbit won through against the competition because of its high symbolism. Like the egg, the ancient Greeks, Romans and Teutons revered the rabbit as a symbol of fertility.

All the Easter Sundays of my childhood were sunny, how could it have been otherwise. In the predominantly catholic area where I grew up children were told that the Church bells, which fell silent on "Green Thursday" (Maundy Thursday) and did not sound again until Easter Sunday, had flown to Rome, to be blessed by the Pope. So, on Easter Sunday morning, we were woken by the joyous, noisy clamour of the freshly returned bells of the village Church and all the other Churches in villages all around ringing out over the wide, flat, marshy land.

Children rushed outdoors to hunt for the Easter eggs which their parents had painted and hidden in small clusters all over the garden. There were no chocolate eggs until much later but I do remember, that within a few years of the end of the war, when real food was no longer a luxury available only on the black market, there were sweets, like liquorice sticks and boiled, flavoured lumps of sugar.

The eggs were eaten for breakfast. Once the first novelty and excitement of the hunt had passed and the basket of prettily patterned, painted eggs on the table had been admired, I soon grew tired of eating them. They were, of course, cold and hard-boiled, I could never manage more than one; thinking back now, it seems to me that they were dished up, in some form or other, for days afterwards. Eggs were by no means plentiful, not even in the country; being part of the rations, they were a precious source of nourishment, highly appreciated.

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