When I was a child, an Easter Egg was a gift we received on Easter Sunday. The chocolate egg came wrapped in cellophane, and in its own fancy pottery egg cup which we would use later to hold our breakfast hard-boiled eggs. Memories of those Easter eggs are all wrapped up with memories of dressing up and going to church for the Easter Sunday service.
For many those chocolate eggs are now just treats to be bought and consumed. But for the children we see in the painting above Easter eggs were much more.
The Easter Eggs they are using are real eggs, boiled and colored. A young boy watches closely as a young woman concentrates on the roll of the egg she has just let go. We can see that they are serious about what they are doing. The little ones are too young to care, but their lack of interest only emphasizes the concentration of the older two.
Whose egg will roll further down the polished wooden chute? Where will it stop on the heavy coat that covers the floor, cushioning the precious eggs so they do not break as they leave the chute and stopping them from rolling too far? Will hers hit or tap another egg?
The picture was painted by the Russian artist Nikolai Andreevich Koshelev in the nineteenth century. At the time he was painting depictions of village life and traditions – later he went on to develop a great reputation as a painter of historical and religious pictures. Here he was painting a traditional Easter game.
Egg rolling is still part of Easter in places in Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States. So why are they rolling eggs? And why do people continue to do it?
Before the coming of Christianity, the egg symbolized fertility, the coming of Spring, and the rebirth of the land. Easter falls at about the time that Spring arrives; egg rolling competitions and games probably celebrated the arrival of Spring. When some pagan customs were absorbed into Christian holy days eggs became a symbol of Easter and the rolling of the egg took on an added significance. It came to be seen as a symbol of the rolling away of the stone from Christ’s grave.
Just a seasonal chocolate treat? Maybe it’s time to look at the Easter egg a little differently…