For Armenians, Easter is the most significant holiday of the year and usually involves large family gatherings where a strange ritual takes place: The Easter Egg Duel.
I would like to share with you an old and fun Easter tradition shared by Armenians around the world. Maybe you would like to try it too!
Here’s how the duel unfolds. Colored Easter eggs are presented in a basket or on a platter. To be truly authentic, the eggs should be dyed in red onion skins which turns them a deep, reddish brown or deep purple. The coloring I will explain later.
An announcement is made for everyone to choose their weapon – I mean egg. Everyone hovers over the array of eggs to deliberate while some individuals examine them extra carefully for strength and form. In other words, there’s a lot of theatre in the selection process. Only ONE egg is allowed per person. There is no age, gender, disability discrimination or limit to the number of participants as long as there are enough eggs.
After everyone’s got THEIR egg – the winning egg – battle units are formed and a coin is tossed as to who attacks first. The one being attacked cups their egg in one hand so that only the tip of the egg is exposed. The attacker concentrates on the target, then tries to strategically tap the tip of the opponent’s egg with the tip of his or her egg. Whoever’s egg cracks is the loser. The dueling can get a little frenzied. Many bruised feelings of pride inevitably lead to complaints of cheating being hurled around. (Yes, some people have been known to sneak in marble eggs.) Winners keep challenging each other with both ends of their egg until the last hold-out is declared the winner.
What is this funny custom all about? In early Christian symbolism, the hard egg symbolizes the tomb where Jesus Christ was laid to rest after his crucifixion. The cracking symbolizes the “cracking” open of the tomb, signifying resurrection and the realization that there’s more to physical life than just a body, but the existence of an everlasting spirit or soul with that leading to the concept of “accountability.” The deep reddish color of the onion-skin dyed eggs represents the blood of Christ spilled at the cross.
It’s unclear how or when the symbolic cracking of the tomb turned into these amusing egg duels. But all ends well when attention is diverted to the elaborately set dessert table where lots of good things to eat beckon and pacify the duellers, including their battered eggs which are peeled and eaten. If only all “duels” could be settled so easily.
One of the special treats on the Easter dessert table is the braided yeast bread called choreg. Many cultures have a similar Easter or Spring bread made with milk, flour and lots of butter. The featured photo is a spontaneous snapshot of choregs as prepared by one of my cousins in Lyon, France, just after pulling them out of the oven. Nested in the middle of each braid is a traditionally colored egg dyed with onion skins.
For more on an Armenian Easter click here.