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the story of the Scarlet Egg

It is told, that in a time long ago, among the rock-strewn hills of Greece, a young woman was seen walking to market, carrying a basket of eggs she’d collected. The hems of her skirts were dusty. Her shoulders were stooped, her step was slow and heavy. Her face bore a great sadness. A group of men passing by stopped to ask, with concern, “Why so sad, lady?”

“Have you not heard?” she answered, surprised at their ignorance. “Christ our Lord has died and been buried!”

“Have YOU not heard?!” they asked, amazed.”Christ was buried, but He has risen!”

“Risen? from death? This can’t be! If you speak the truth, may these eggs I carry turn red!”  And before her very eyes, they did. Her basket of pearl white eggs had suddenly turned brilliant scarlet. And she, now believing the news she’d been given, exclaimed, “He has risen!  Indeed, He has risen!”  And she ran home to tell the news.

“Χριστοσ Ανεστο!”  (Christos anesti!)

Our father grew up, and married our mother, in the Greek Orthodox Church. Up until the time they married, Easter at our house was overseen by the big Bunny, who, along with whichever of his assistants he called upon, hid the eggs and filled our baskets with jelly beans, chocolates and crayons. We loved it – of course. But when our Dad entered our lives, carrying with him his wonderful Greek traditions and the stories to explain them, suddenly, Easter had a meaning. In Greek culture, traditions around Easter are especially rich.  As our Yaya would say to Mom, “Is not so big Jesus was born, Ruth. Is big He rose!” Of all the Saints’ Days and all the other religious holidays they celebrate, without question, Easter is supreme. There’s no holiday more festive, more family-oriented, nor is there one in which the people feast as long, as much and as happily as they do on Greek Easter.

Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church frequently falls on a date different than the one on most calendars, so our family celebrated twice!

Only some of the traditions made their way into our lives, but those traditions have stuck, now into the fourth generation since Yaya.  And the Scarlet Egg from the story plays a starring role.

First, let me begin by saying, it’s no small feat to turn a white egg scarlet. You may get a lovely shade of bright pink, but honestly, are we impressed? In a photo below, you’ll see the packet of dye I used this year. I picked it up at the local Greek deli (Foti’s in Portland) where our Dad used to buy the feta and olive oil, and where my brother and I sometimes have lunch. When I left the shop with the packet of dye in hand, the owner wished me good luck! And I knew what he meant. As important as it is that the eggs be red, the real challenge is yet to come!


The Contest

Each of us kids was taught to examine carefully all the red eggs in the basket, turning them over in our hands, feeling their heft, considering how sharp the one end was and how stalwart the other. This was an important decision we had to make, and we had to take every factor into account. (Our Yaya would get such a gleam in her eyes as she made her final choice! That fleeting glimmer informed us kids how serious, and how seriously fun, this was going to be!)

Eventually, we each had our “winning egg” in hand. And then, one person in the group would challenge another. Each would hold their prize egg securely, snugly, with one end exposed at the top. (We would each go on to develop what we were convinced was a winning grip.) The challenger would strike the other’s egg, proclaiming loudly “Christos Anesti!” (Christ has risen!) – (crack!) – and the immediate response would be, “Alethós Anésti!” (Truly He is risen!)

Now, of course, the shell of only one egg could withstand the impact and the other would have cracked under pressure.  The loser now became a spectator and the contest would continue. Eventually someone was victorious over all, and he or she would go on to experience, it is said, good luck for the year. The contest could continue for quite a while, though; even after one end of our egg was dented and cracked, we might display the other end for a second challenge. “Rules” were somewhat flexible and often the little ones would be given a second egg to try again. There would be plenty of opportunities to take life more “seriously” later. But, as it was then…it is now…a beautiful time to celebrate hope, possibility, and new life! Christos Anesti!

~ ~ ~

(Some of you may be interested in a couple points of religious symbolism from the story above: The red was to symbolize the spilled blood of Jesus; the broken egg shell, the tomb from which He emerged. The traditional Easter dinner in the Greek Orthodox Church – and probably other Christian churches as well – is lamb, symbolizing the Lamb of God who sacrificed himself. This latter symbolism had its beginnings in the Jewish Passover tradition.)


You’ll notice above that some of the colored eggs are a bright red, others a deep and dark red. This is what happens when you dye both the white and the brown eggs. Most red dyes, and food coloring as well, won’t impart the red you see above. Greek Easter Egg Dye holds the secret. Wash eggs well, hard boil, then follow the instructions on the dye packet. Allow eggs to dry on a cooling rack, with newspaper spread beneath to catch the drops. If you like, take a cloth with a bit of olive oil to shine the egg all gleam-y once it’s dried.

Stay tuned for an Easter Bread that makes use of a dyed scarlet egg…

35 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oh, how I enjoyed this post with my morning coffee. Sigh. I loves ya. xox

    April 1, 2012
    • oh, I does love ya too Movita!

      April 1, 2012
  2. Very pretty bright scarlet eggs, spree, and a lovely story to go along with:) I didn’t know this tale from Greece, so it was also very informative! The sun is just peeping out behind the neighboring church and there is a “spring-like” breeze coming in.. I am excited that Easter is just around the corner! Brilliant post today, spree! xoxo Smidge

    April 1, 2012
    • You’ve got a bit of sun there Smidge? I wonder if that’s the same sun we had here for 9 minutes one day last week. 🙂 Thanks so much for the comment! xoxo

      April 1, 2012
      • Ahhh.. we do get quite a bit of sun.. I forgotten where you live??

        April 1, 2012
        • Land of the green, Oregon. Portland. Normally I don’t fuss much about the weather, but we broke a record in March for rainiest ever. At least we got credit for all this sogginess! (I can’t end there though. When it’s sunny here, it’s positively breathtakingly beautiful.)

          April 1, 2012
          • That’s right.. I love Oregon, I’m longing to see Canon Beach! What a shame to have that much rain.. at least it will be lushly green long there long before us! xo

            April 1, 2012
  3. Noreen #

    I’m going to my first greek easter this year (my boyfriend is 1/2 greek). It was nice to learn about the tradition. Thank you.

    April 1, 2012
    • Noreen! I would say you’re in for a treat! If it’s anything like the Greek Easters we grew up with, it’s a whole lot of fun, a whole lot of food, and all those cracked scarlet eggs! Let me know what it was like will you? 🙂

      April 1, 2012
      • Noreen #

        It was a big party (102 people) in my boyfriend’s uncle’s front yard. They had spanakopita, galaktoboureko, horta and a bunch of other greek dishes. It was a great time. I didn’t see any scarlet eggs, but they have had them in past years. I put a few photos up:

        April 23, 2012
  4. What a wonderful story, and so beautiful those eggs! What a lovely start to this Sunday!

    April 1, 2012
    • Thanks Shira! Enjoy the day! (I’ll have some of your lemon love later this afternoon!)

      April 1, 2012
  5. I really enjoyed your post today, Spree, and, as always, your photography is top-notch. Although it’s been some time, I’ve seen red eggs at Easter but never knew the meaning behind them. Your Yaya would be proud to learn that not only are you still dyeing eggs red but you taught us all about the tradition and accompanying legend.

    I’m anxious to see your traditional Easter bread. I just learned of one that Grandma baked and will be blogging the recipe in a couple days. If we lived closer together, we could swap loaves!

    April 1, 2012
    • Aw, thanks John! I was just thinking this morning how pleased she’d be to know that little ones she hadn’t even imagined yet would be following in the traditions she taught us. She
      l o v e d little ones to pieces!!! The most exuberant affection I’ve ever seen (or experienced!) Such a delightful Yaya she was, and how lucky us!
      I’ll post an Easter bread tomorrow. Can’t wait to see yours, and oh I do love the idea that we could swap loaves! Maybe in our own very “modern” way we will!

      April 1, 2012
  6. Stunning eggs and just as wonderful a story.

    April 1, 2012
  7. Wonderful post!
    I truly enjoyed it. I didn’t know this Greek tradition is beautiful.
    Thanks a lot for sharing 🙂

    April 1, 2012
    • Aw, makes me happy you enjoyed it! Thanks so much Jelly Bean!

      April 1, 2012
  8. I loved how you talked about your life as a child, even a little, means so much to us as readers, we are Shown Between the Lines if you will and these eggs! Well! you are a star! c

    April 1, 2012
    • Aw, you’re kind! Thank you Celi!

      April 2, 2012
  9. I loved this post and learning about the traditions that entered your life! Today we watched Palm Sunday going on around us but here in Spain is “Branch Sunday” and olive branches are used. Loved all the traditions, the interpretations and most of all the fact that we are all here (at least in Blogland) sharing and appreciating and respecting each others beliefs, and customs. If only the rest of the world would take note … 🙂

    April 1, 2012
    • Tanya, I love the thought of swaying olive branches being carried through the streets of Spain!! How very lovely waving the branches of Peace! Olive trees have a very special place in my heart, and one day I’ll tell the story that explains why. Ah, does please me that you liked reading about the traditions of Greek Easter. And as to your last comment, yes! Perhaps we need to invite the world to join us in Blogland. xo

      April 2, 2012
  10. I’ll bet your exuberant Yaya never dreamed of all that she was passing on! How richly you honor and reveal her legacy. No matter how hungry I am, your posts always leave me filled to the brim.

    April 1, 2012
    • That does make me awfully happy!

      April 2, 2012
  11. 🙂 🙂

    April 1, 2012
  12. Thank you for sharing your traditions with us. The red eggs are things of beauty.

    April 1, 2012
  13. This is so cool, sadly the only time I have come across these is in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I always wondered what they were doing.

    April 1, 2012
  14. How I love this story and the memories here. Some of my favorite childhood remembrances…they live on in the lives of our kids and here on cooking-spree! I’ve always so wished I could have known Yaya, myself. Love you!

    April 2, 2012
    • I wish you could have known her too sweetie! I love though that a little piece of Yaya lives on in all of us. xox!

      April 2, 2012
  15. peasepudding #

    What a lovely tradition!

    April 2, 2012
    • Thank you Allison!! It was (& is) so fun and so lovely!

      April 2, 2012
  16. deb #

    This post touched my heart. I never met my Grandma from Madrid, but reading this made me think of her from stories of my Mom’s. I will share the story of the scarlet egg with my Mom. Have a blessed Easter 🙂 xo

    April 2, 2012
    • It seems that grandmas from their respective “old countries” must share a lot in common. I’m sorry that you never got to meet yours! I wish I’d known mine MUCH longer! Happy Easter, Deb! 🙂 xo

      April 3, 2012

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