Easter and Passover are behind us—the expectancy of summer is sure to follow.
Passover and Easter are troubled cousins who sometimes refuse to recognize their patrimony. They both celebrate life or rebirth. Passover celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt—a rebirth. Easter celebrates the literal rebirth—life from death—of Jesus. Both have strong food traditions associated with them, though my Jewish friends tell me I’m not missing much (think gefilte fish and matzo).
Both holidays, however, also embrace death as a foundational premise. In Exodus, God helps the Children of Israel escape their slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the ancient Egyptians. The tenth and worst of the plagues was the death of the Egyptian first-born. For protection, God instructed the Israelites to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a slaughtered spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over the first-born in these homes—hence the English name for the holiday. And for Christians, there’s the Crucifixion. This was a form of execution long used in the ancient world that resulted in a slow, painful death that lasted for hours, if not days, until the victim died of exhaustion or suffocation. I don’t recommend one read Exodus or the New Testament just before bedtime.
What many of us (both sides of the Old/New Testament divide) often forget are the similarities between the two faiths. It’s no coincidence that both Easter and Passover occur during the same time of the year. They also share a common food: the egg.
One of the items on the Seder plate (a special plate containing symbolic foods that retell of the story of the Exodus from Egypt), is beitzah, a hard-boiled egg. This symbolizes the festival sacrifice offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, that was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.
Now that sounds pretty familiar to us Gentiles—the Easter egg—a symbol of fertility and rebirth.
Of course, in celebrating Easter (whether secular or not), the Easter egg would be nothing without the Easter egg hunt—a brutal competition to collect more eggs than your sibling. Now that’s the true meaning of Easter for the under-10 age demographic!
But I grew up as an only child, so I missed out on the joy and pain of sibling Easter egg hunts. So I improvised. I employed my competitive desires in other ways: finding all of the two-dozen easter eggs hidden by my mother in record time (record: 10 mins, 15 secs.). There was also the great Sunday School Easter Egg Competition of 1980, weaving together the pagan and the sacred in one spectacular afternoon.
Change was in the air. Ronald Regan was challenging Jimmy Carter. Maybe all of us back then could sense the competitive go-go Eighties lurking just around the corner. And perhaps because of this, my Sunday school class decided to hold a contest for the best decorated Easter egg. Game on bro!
I was determined to win this thing. This was my year! I convinced my mom to buy an expensive store-bought egg decorating kit (a rule-breaker for sure, as we were a food-dye-and-vinegar family) that involved Day-Glo powder and a Ziploc bag—a shake-n-bake approach to Easter. I even glued tiny gold leaves and silver beads onto that blue egg until it looked like a bona fide Fabergé egg! And yes, I did win in a landslide.
As I mentioned earlier, we were old school when it came to dying Easter eggs. Eggs were dyed the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday, using nothing more than vinegar and food coloring. I’m not sure about the brand, but I remember these teardrop shaped bottles. You carefully put several drops in coffee cups filled with hot water and vinegar. There were only four colors: red, blue, green, and yellow. Anything more sophisticated required the guide on the back of the box: two drops of red + one drop of blue = purple; two drops of yellow + one drop of red = orange. You get the picture. To this day, the smell of vinegar takes me back to the spring days of my childhood. It is my Proustean Madeleine.
The day’s newspaper covered the table so as not to stain it, though I’m sure I did. We rested the freshly died eggs on plain, white paper plates to dry, leaving a light-colored spot where the dye ran, which didn’t matter because we would place them in the basket in such a way that you wouldn't see the spot. And of course the basket contained green, plastic grass that lingers like death and taxes, showing up obscure corners of the house months later. The next morning, I was rewarded with chocolate, including a large chocolate bunny proudly displayed in the middle of my Easter basket.
After taking a few bites of that chocolate bunny (always start with the ears), the Easter egg hunt would promptly commence. We used the real eggs we dyed the night before. My mother took great pride in finding clever ways to hide the eggs, while leaving a few in pretty obvious locations lest I get too discouraged. After I had found them all, then it was my turn. I tried my best to be clever in how I hide the eggs, though my mother lovingly made it seem they were impossible to find. We held these kind of hunts even when it rained, which seemed a rather frequent Easter occurrence now that I think about it. And the hiding places were no less clever when the hunt was indoors sometimes too much so. One year, no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t find that 24th egg. We did eventually—sometime in June. Ugh.
And then the Easter eggs that I had so carefully made and so carefully hidden were now ready for their final role: deviled eggs.
I looked forward to deviled eggs at Easter as much as the chocolate bunny in my basket.
My mother kept to the traditional side of things when it came to food. This was no less true when it came to deviled eggs, nothing more that eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper. From there, the debate will never cease. Relish or not. Paprika or not. My mother was pro-relish and pro-paprika. I am as well.
I still love deviled eggs. I still make them. I still make them like my Mother did with a bit of paprika sprinkled on top. Anything else would be sacrilegious – as even the Easter Bunny would agree, I’m sure.