As much as the lamb, eggs are an emblem of the Greek Easter. To Greeks, spring eggs denote sudden wealth, the fertility of the coming summer, abundance, and above all else, joy. Announcing Christ’s resurrection in a splendid splash of color, the eggs for the Easter bread are dyed red. In earlier days this was done in water tinted scarlet from beets, the first spring vegetable, or, where it was available, reddish wood. Now cooks generally use commercial packets of dye. The dyeing begins on Holy Thursday, before the solemnity of Good Friday wraps the week in black. Indeed, Holy Thursday is sometimes called Kokkinopefti, “the day red falls,” to symbolize Christ’s blood.
3 cups water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons red food coloring
4 to 6 eggs (see Note)
1. Place the water in a saucepan just large enough to hold the eggs in one layer and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the vinegar and red food coloring. Reduce the heat to just below the boiling point, and gently, one at a time, add as many eggs as will fit in one layer. Cook for 15 minutes, adjusting the heat so the liquid simmers without boiling. Then remove the pan from the heat and set the eggs aside to cool in the liquid for at least 40 minutes.
2. Lift the eggs out of the liquid and pat them dry on paper towels.
3. Grease your hands with olive oil and rub the eggs to make them glossy. Use right away or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
The color of the eggshell affects the depth of color when the eggs are dyed. Brown eggs turn out a denser red; white eggs turn out more luminescent.
In addition to decorating the Easter loaf, in Greece eggs make up part of the toys bestowed upon children and part of the games played on Easter day. With the leftovers from the bread dough, women shape small bread dolls (for girls) and snakes or other animals (for boys) and place a red egg as the head of the figure. Village children have few toys, and these bread toys delight them.
Red eggs are given in baskets and are hidden for the children to find. And both children and adults play a special game with uncooked eggs on Easter day: With egg in hand, they greet each other and hit their eggs point to point while saying “Christ is risen.” One person gets hands, if not clothes, splattered—to much laughter—while the one with the stronger egg goes on to test it on another Easter reveler.