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“Tsougrisma,” a Greek Easter custom

There is no Easter bunny hiding eggs for the Greek children to find. The eggs are in plain sight, on the table, for everyone to take.

Yet, no one may eat them before “cracking” them with someone, exchanging wishes and blessings. This cracking, called “tsougrisma,” is not unlike egg “tapping”, which is still practiced in some places.

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Fun for all that lasts for days

So the Greeks may not spend their morning looking for the eggs, but they have fun cracking them. Actually, the fun is more “democratically” spread, because all ages join in the fun. And it lasts longer, too. The fun begins as soon as the Resurrection is pronounced, as many people carry eggs in their purses and pockets when they go to church. Eggs will be cracked again the next day at breakfast, then at lunch and repeated, again and again, for several days, as long as there are willing partners and red eggs to crack.

How does it all work?

Cracking pairs are formed quickly with an exchange of glances; as soon as that happens, the two opponents take positions: one holds the egg with the tip pointed upwards, the second holds another above the first, with the tip pointed downwards. “Hristos Anesti” (the Christ has risen from the dead) says one. “Alithos anesti” (He really has) responds the other. Then the person who holds the bottom egg remains still, while the other aims the tip of his or her egg towards the bottom tip and strikes. The one whose egg is unbroken is declared the winner, among laughter and traditional wishes.

Rules

The movement must be vertical, from top to bottom and the strike precise, at the tip. Only the youngest children are forgiven for hitting any which way – hitting to the side of the tip is considered bad form and is frowned upon. So is moving the bottom egg just before the strike or holding it so tight that only a small area of the tip shows. These are considered childish tricks unworthy of a grown up child or adult.

Formerly some regions used to have strict rules as to who would be the hitter (holding the upper egg) and who would hold their egg at the bottom, waiting to be hit. Usually, the eldest and highest in hierarchy had the top position; young or low status men, the women and the children had the bottom position.

Nowadays nobody remembers such rules, if they’ve even heard them at all; cracking is a fun and informal affair and precedence is usually given to the children who are allowed to have their way.

After the egg is broken, the fun does not stop. Losers may form new pairs cracking their eggs bottom to bottom. Sometimes (but not often) when the bottoms are broken too, people may try cracking their eggs side to side.

Easter egg cracking

Contests

In some regions the winner gets all the glory, and reserves the hard, unbroken egg for later use. The losers of course get to eat their broken eggs.

In other regions the stakes are higher, as the winner gets to take the broken eggs. Many resort to trickery, dyeing wooden eggs or using other tricks to acquire the hardest tip. When the cracking is for fun, people may do it just for the laughs, but when the contest is for real, there is greater motivation (and the consequences will be graver than mere teasing, if they are found out).

Symbolism

The red color of the eggs is said to symbolize the blood Jesus spilled to save mankind. It still remains by far the most popular color among Greeks; although some experiment with other colors, red still reigns supreme.

As for the cracking, it is said to symbolize the breaking of the tomb, when Jesus was resurrected. Others believe it symbolizes the break of the old order (or old faith) and the establishment of a new one (Christianity).

Of course, the egg is a very old and perhaps universal symbol of new life and rebirth, which fits perfectly with the Easter narrative. However, it also fits with the rebirth of nature that we usually associate with spring, which most pagan religions celebrated with various rites. It is therefore quite possible that early Christians carried the egg symbolism over from their older, pagan faiths, but adapted it to serve their new one.

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Image sources: first, second.

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