Eggs of all colours of the rainbow are being consumed during Orthodox Easter week. In the part of the world where I come from the tradition of colouring Easter eggs goes back to time immemorial. My favourite legend associated with its origins is that of Mary Magdalene, who is said to have visited Roman Emperor Tiberius after Christ’s Resurrection. Having greeted the Emperor Mary Magdalene exclaimed “Christ has risen!” but Tiberius dismissed it, asserting “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red”, referring to an egg that was among the gifts that Mary Magdalene had brought. Legend has it that as Tiberius said these words the egg changed its colour to radiant red.
Another legend refers to the Virgin Mary who held a basket of eggs at her son’s Crucifixion. Blood from the wounds of Jesus suffering on the cross is said to have dropped into Mary’s basket colouring those eggs red.
There are non-Christian legends too, the most frequently cited one links colouring eggs with the ancient pagan festival of Spring, celebrated by peoples populating modern Western Europe. Eggs and procreating rabbits were symbols of nature’s revival in the cycle of seasons.
Regardless of what legend one believes or doesn’t believe, the tradition of decorating eggs lives on. Back in the day when no artificial colouring was around my grandmother boiled eggs with the onion skins added to the water. This coloured them in various hues of reddish browns. Eggs can also be boiled with beetroot to colour them purple or yellow by adding saffron or turmeric to the water eggs boil in. In the olden days, our grandmothers were skilled at decorating much more intricately than this however. Eggs were painted with the most beautiful patterns and the finest examples were entered into the Easter Fair competitions, just like Babushka in “Rechenka’s Eggs”.
Patricia Pollaco, the author and illustrator of this book, has Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian roots in her internationally mixed background. She has captured the essence of the eggs decorating ritual beautifully! These illustrations transport me back to my grandparent’s place thirty years ago, whereas the babushka in the image below resembles my late grandma so much that it sends shivers up my spine.
This beautiful Easter story tells of an old woman who is nursing a goose wounded by hunters. Babushka named the bird Rechenka (which is the Russian word affectionately referring to a river or to beautiful speech that flows like a river). In the lead up to Easter Babushka is busy painting eggs to enter into the Easter Fair competition. But an unfortunate incident gets in her way and ruins all her work. Not surprisingly, love and a little magic interfere and save the day.
A note for my non-Russian speaking readers: the correct way of pronouncing it is “bAbushka” not “babUshka” (stressing the first syllable not the second will make you sound like native Russian!)
The rest of the images in this post are from the Easter service at St Nicholas Russian Church in Sydney’s suburb of Fairfield. Not ordinarily a churchgoer, I have the greatest respect for the persona of Jesus and always try to attend the Easter and Christmas services at this small and intimate church. Seeing rows of baskets filled with decorated eggs and Easter Paskha (a specially baked Easter treat) is always a visual feast and the experience at the church is a multi-sensory one.
Whilst I try to penetrate the meaning of the service read in archaic (at times unclear) Russian, I often find myself drifting away from the words, indulging in the beautiful harmonies of the singing choir and marvelling at the depictions of saints lining up the walls of the church. I think back to my early childhood and try to remember what my grandma had told me about the saints, their lives, deeds and the reason for that certain sadness in their eyes. Suddenly all that drifting away and getting lost in my thoughts comes to a halt at the sight of the St Nicholas icon below. Mesmerised I can not take my eyes off the priest standing under the icon! Do you see the resemblance?! It felt very surreal as if the Saint had just stepped out of the frame of his own depiction and materialised right before our eyes.
“Rechenka’s Eggs” books giveaway!
I would love to hear about your culture’s traditional celebrations in the comments to this post, not just Easter, anything close to your heart!
At the end of the Orthodox Easter week on 9 May 2021, I will randomly draw a winner from those who have left a comment here and/or on this blog’s Instagram account and send them “Rechenka’s Eggs” book to anywhere in the world and at my expense.
Happy Orthodox Easter to whom it matters!