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Why Greeks Dye Eggs Red for Easter

dye eggs red easter
Red eggs for Easter. Credit: Vassilis/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Traditionally, families across Greece dye eggs red on Holy Thursday. Dying eggs red in anticipation of Greek Easter is one of the oldest and most beloved traditions in Greece.

Along with candles, church services, lamb, and the sweetbread tsoureki, eggs that have been tinted with red dye are one of the most iconic symbols of Easter in Greece.

The symbolism of red eggs on Greek Easter

The red eggs hold significant religious symbolism, as the color red symbolizes the blood Christ shed on the cross.

Additionally, the egg in itself is a symbol—its hard shell represents the sealed tomb of Jesus—the cracking of which symbolizes His resurrection from the dead and exit from the tomb.

Due to its religious significance, the egg serves as an emblem of the resurrection, and its decorated Easter variations are globally recognized as a symbol of the most special day on the Christian calendar—Easter, the event that sealed the promise of eternal life.

According to some followers of Eastern Christianity, we owe the Easter tradition of painting eggs red on Holy Thursday to Mary Magdalene.

This tradition of some believers states that Mary Magdalene brought cooked eggs to share with the other women at the tomb of Jesus and that the eggs in her basket miraculously turned brilliant red when she saw the risen Christ.

Others relate a similar story with a few minor changes. According to tradition, Mary Magdalene, after stumbling upon Christ’s empty tomb, rushed to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor to tell him that Christ had risen.

The governor, however, didn’t believe what he was told and announced that he would believe Mary Magdalene’s claims only if the eggs in a basket next to him turned red, which they instantly did.

How to dye eggs red for Greek Easter naturally

In supermarkets in Greece and around the world, as Easter approaches, red dye is found just about anywhere. However, if you find yourself without red dye on Holy Thursday or you’re looking to use a natural method, you can still dye your eggs in time for Easter, as long as you have a few extra onions in the house.

In this video, acclaimed chef Peter Minakis shows how to naturally dye your eggs red using onion skins.  Here’s his secret organic recipe below.

You will need:

the skins of approx. 10 medium yellow onions
5 cups of water
2 Tbsp. white vinegar

Add your onion skins into a pot and pour enough water to cover them by over an inch. Bring up to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to warm.

Remove the onion skins and place the eggs gently into the pot. Bring back to boil and simmer for 5 minutes then remove from the heat.

Allow the eggs to cool in the red dye then transfer to your fridge to set overnight.
Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and allow to air-dry (about 45 minutes).

Dab a white paper towel into some vegetable oil, polish the dyed eggs, and then place them into the egg carton. Store the eggs in the fridge until needed.

Greeks crack the red-dyed eggs together on Easter

After the eggs have been dyed red, they are used to play the game tsougrisma on Easter Sunday.

Each player holds a red egg, and one taps the end of their egg against the end of the other player’s egg. The goal is to crack the opponent’s egg—without cracking yours, of course.

The player who successfully cracks the eggs of the other players is declared the winner and, it is said, will have good luck during the year.

Traditionally, when tapping the egg, the first player would say to his opponent “Christos anesti” (“Christ has risen!”), to which the second person responds “Alithos anesti!” (“He Truly Has”) as he taps in return.

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