For Serbian-Orthodox Easter (Uskrs) there is no Easter Bunny and there are no chocolate eggs. Serbians still resist the commercialisation of Easter and continue with more traditional ways of celebrating. This year the Orthodox Christian Easter, which follows the Julian calendar, falls on the same date as the western churches using the Gregorian. On this day (and Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday) everyone greets one another by saying ‘Hristos Vaskrse’ (Christ is Risen) to which the response is ‘Vaistinu Vaskrse’ (Truly He is Risen).
Orthodox Easter preparations begin with strict fasting for 40 days (six weeks) before Easter Sunday (more or less vegans who eat fish), however not all Serbians adhere to the strict fast. Nevertheless, they all decorate hardboiled Easter eggs on Good Friday, using various techniques. Some dye the eggs red to symbolise the blood of Christ, others dye the eggs many different colours. These eggs can be plain or wax can be used to make patterns (i.e. Cross). Another popular way of decorating is with floral patterns and boiling the eggs in onion skin. Flowers are a symbol of spring, a time of renewal and hence a symbol of Easter and Jesus’ rebirth (see below for more detail on floral egg decorating). The first egg is the ‘guardian of the house’ and kept until the following Easter.
On Easter Sunday, the churches are overflowing with families celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. Families bring two baskets of their decorated eggs, one to be blessed by the priest and take home and the other to share with the Parish. At the end of the service, each person receives an egg with communion. Sharing eggs is a sacred tradition in Eastern Christianity following from the story that Mary Magdalene brought cooked eggs to share with other women at the tomb of Jesus and upon seeing the risen Christ her eggs miraculously turned red.
Following the morning mass, families gather at home for the big Easter feast, where the food is diverse and plentiful. It is also important for the table to be nicely arranged. There is no particular customary dish prepared on this day. The highlight of the day is the egg tapping game, ‘tucanje’. The game is simple, person A holds their egg while person B taps with theirs – intending to break person A’s egg, while their own remains intact. The winner with the last undamaged egg is considered lucky. However, it’s not just ‘a game’, breaking eggs on Easter carries a deeper significance and symbolism to it, that is Resurrection and new life, specifically, Jesus’ sealed tomb from which he emerged after His crucifixion.
Floral Egg decorating
These beautiful naturally dyed patterned Easter eggs are a cherished Serbian tradition.
1. Gather leaves and flowers that have distinct shapes. Ferns are my favourite, as they not only leave a wonderful pattern but also stain the egg green.
2. Wash the eggs and let them air dry completely.
4. Prepare stockings. Buy extra-tall/long/large stockings and each ‘leg’ should be cut into quarters (approx 12-15cm). There should be enough stocking for you to comfortably tie two knots on either end and fit an egg. Tie one end of the stocking.
5. Place the leaf or flower on the egg and place the egg into the stocking, then tie the other end of the stocking, tightly (but not so tight the egg will break).
6. Carefully place the eggs in the water (with onion skin). Boil eggs on a medium-high heat (4) so the eggs don’t break while boiling. Then boil eggs for 20 minutes.
7. Remove the eggs carefully and let them cool.
8. Remove stocking and leaf/flower. With left over stockings rub oil over the egg and with another stocking remove excess oil.