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Today is Holy Thursday in the Greek Orthodox Church and it is traditional to make red eggs along with tsoureki:  a sweet brioche type plaited bread which is commonly decorated with red eggs.

The red colour is to symbolise life and the blood of Christ.  The red is achieved by either boiling the eggs with white onion skins or buying a dye kit which is applied to the eggs after they are boiled.  The eggs are then polished with a little bit of olive oil on a cloth or with shellac supplied with the dye kit.  I favour the dye kit method for colouring the eggs as then I don’t have the problem of using up fifteen large onions, but skip the shellac process preferring the more natural olive oil method to give a sheen to the eggs.  A very small dab of olive oil on a piece of kitchen paper goes a long way.

I love the tradition of the red eggs and enjoy making them each year but  I don’t eat them and have never encouraged the family to do so either.  I am sure the red dye is not good for you hence the reason why I never put red eggs in my tsoureki.  I know my thinking is not always popular!

Once the eggs have been dyed they are placed before the Icon until Easter Sunday when the eggs are passed around and the aged old game of tsougrisma/τσούγκρισμα is played.  The idea being that each person takes a red egg and gently taps someone else’s egg.   The aim being to crack their opponent’s egg.   Usually just before the tapping the words Christos Anesti (Christ is risen) with the reply Alithos Anesti (truly he is risen) are exchanged.  The last egg to remain in tact is the winner with its owner having good luck for the year.

When we were not in Athens for Easter we would go to Saint Sophia’s in Moscow Road, London.  Usually for both Good Friday and then on the Saturday for the midnight service.  The Saturday service is very moving and the church is usually packed with little room to move let alone hold a candle.  Everyone is waiting for the Resurrection and just before midnight the church is plunged into darkness and silence.  At exactly midnight the priest will light his candle announcing ‘Christos Anesti’.  From his candle the flame is passed around the church, and the choir starts to sing and the Easter celebrations begin.  Before leaving the church which was always a mad panic we would collect our red eggs and holy bread offered on trays and baskets around the church.  The bread was then promptly wrapped up by my mother and put into her handbag never to be seen again.

The first year I joined my mother in observing Lent I didn’t quite realise how hard it would be and how hungry I would become.  All I could think of on the Saturday midnight service was what I would eat when I got home.  I think that the mad dash afterwards might have meant that others had the same idea.  When I was given my red egg and holy bread  I made sure to hang onto them myself and not pass them to my mother to look after.  I had been told to wait until I got home before I ate anything.  As my mother was busy waving to everyone and shouting greetings to all,  I slipped into the back seat of the car.   I quickly started to peel my egg,  eating it whilst taking nibbles from the holy bread stored in my coat pocket before my mother could turn round and stop me.    The taste was not that good but it was well received by my stomach.

Red Eggs

Using a red dye kit

Boil as many eggs as required for eight minutes.

Cool

Mix the dye powder with cold water and dip the eggs in.  The instructions say 3 minutes ONLY but I dipped mine in a second time to achieve a slightly darker colour.

To make the shape of the Cross I cut out the shapes from white address labels and struck them on, after dipping the eggs in the dye and waiting for them to dry I peeled off the label.  I did find that a good rub removed any stubborn traces of glue.

Then with a piece of kitchen paper and a tiny bit of olive oil I polished all the eggs.

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