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This year, Orthodox and Catholic Easter are a whole month apart. Since Easter is a fluctuating holiday, which relies on the phases of the moon (I’m not kidding!), it falls on a different date every year, and usually the Catholic and Orthodox dates are only about a week apart. Not this time. This year, Catholic Easter (the one that dictates what time the university will go on spring break) happened early in April, while Orthodox Easter fell on the 1st of May. This huge difference meant that, for the first time in my entire life, I would not be celebrating Easter with my family.
Coming back from spring break in Bulgaria felt weird, since normally, for me, spring break has involved all the usual Easter traditions in which my family participates. But my mother had thoughtfully sent me back to the UK with supplies so I could ‘make my own Easter eggs.’ Determined not to miss any of the usual shenanigans, I set out in the kitchen on Saturday to prepare the traditional colourful eggs, the way my Bulgarian family has them, with my English flatmates. ‘Wait, you’re really boiling eggs?’ Yes. Sixteen of them. Back home in Bulgaria, my mother updated me on the status of her forty-four (44!) eggs, which apparently all turned out fine.
The Easter eggs must be boiled and painted either on Thursday or Saturday before Easter. Any other day would be bad luck. And why do we paint eggs? Here’s how my grandmother explained it: on Easter Sunday, when the word spread that Christ had risen, a woman rushed to tell the emperor, and she had brought with her an offering – an egg, which was all she had. When he refused to believe her, she said, ‘if I am telling the truth, may God turn this egg red right now!’ and the egg turned red. So now, we commemorate the raising of Christ from the dead by painting eggs.
This was my first time making Easter eggs on my own and being the most knowledgeable person in the room when it came to the process. The fun part came after the eggs had been boiled and sufficiently cooled: painting them in different colours. The first egg MUST be painted red (like the blood of Christ), and it’s set aside, until next year, when the oldest person in the house must open it, and based on the state of it, divine what kind of luck the family will be having throughout the year. I was actually rather disappointed that I only had sixteen eggs to play with, because the whole process took a lot less time than I’m used to, and pretty soon I was out of eggs to colour. I even made sparkly ones (don’t ask how – it’s some Bulgarian magic, I think, but basically, when you add crystals to the boiling water, they stick to the egg shell, and make the egg sparkly – neat!) without cracking a single one. I was rather unreasonably proud of my eggs.
After colouring them, I shined them with vegetable oil, which adds a glow to the colours and makes them more vibrant. Overall, I had two sets of very pretty eggs: eight sparkly, and eight non-sparkly.
On Easter Sunday (May 1st), my Greek housemate joined me for breakfast, so I wouldn’t feel lonely. Greeks celebrate Easter on the same day as Bulgarians and largely have the same traditions. One of my flatmates indulged me in an egg battle, which in my opinion is the most fun part of Easter: two people choose their eggs and crack them lightly against each other. The egg that breaks is the loser (and also the one that gets eaten), while the egg that remains uncracked goes on to the next round, against another person. Ultimately, the last person left with an uncracked egg will have health and good luck. But, they won’t have an egg to eat, since their egg didn’t crack.
I had fun trying to explain all the traditions to my English friends, and even though I missed spending time with my family and having a big family Easter Sunday breakfast, I felt supported by my friends here and quite enjoyed the holiday.