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April 22, 2022

The hard-boiled meaning behind red eggs at Easter

Over an evening spent preparing 48 hard-boiled eggs ready to be dyed for Orthodox Easter, three generations of Greek women chat about the importance of keeping tradition alive in contemporary times.

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  • Words and pictures: Angela Skujins

“I was so proud these things came from our house – it was one of the nicer wog things,” Mary Wright, my aunt, says over a table populated with bowls of hard-boiled eggs, leaves, squares of stockings, and pieces of Turkish delight. The latter treat is to be enjoyed while we work.

“People were a bit scared of our dolmathes and other things, but a red fancy egg was special.”

It’s Wednesday night and we’re at my Greek grandparent’s suburban home in Adelaide’s south. The red-bricked bungalow is full of artefacts from my yiayia and pappou’s prior life, before they migrated to Australia in the ‘60s. Their Greek patriotism is evident in magnets, calendars, and ancient-looking black-and-white photos of my ancestors, which cover the fridge and walls.

In addition to these objects, my grandparents brought certain cultural mores to their new home.

My mum, aunt, yiayia and I gather around the dining table to take part in a foundational activity enjoyed as part of Pascha, or Orthodox Easter. This is the egg-dyeing (paschalina auya, in Greek), a practice observed in my grandparents’ Greek village, Kalamos – an hour’s drive north of Athens – but also enjoyed all over Australia by Orthodox communities and immigrant families.

I graze from a bowl of deep-fried chips, made with potatoes from my pappou’s thriving garden, while my mum, Kerry Vlahos – the eldest of three siblings – explains the egg-dyeing is women’s work. The men are usually up at the “crack of dawn” on Easter Sunday, preparing the spit for a marinated lamb.

“We are decorating eggs with leaves that my sister’s cut from the garden, and then we’re fixing them to the egg with some old pieces of stocking,” she says.

“The stockings are used as a very fine sieve, with the leaf between the stocking and the egg, and then when they’re put in the dye on Saturday, to be boiled. When you remove the stocking and you remove the leaf – you’ll have a white patch that the dye couldn’t stick to.”

My yiayia won’t let arthritis stop her from colouring the eggs


While living in Greece, my yiayia was too busy labouring on the farm and tending to donkeys to participate in dyeing the eggs. That job was something her mum, my ‘big yiayia’, did for the family.

When Yiayia (whose name is Angela Vlahos, my namesake) moved to Australia, she learned the practice for Pappou. “It’s Greek. It’s Orthodox. I could never not do it,” Yiayia says, her gold crucifix pendant glinting on her chest.

“It was important for her to do it for Pappou,” my aunt explains, “so Pappou wouldn’t have been ridiculed and his wife spoken about, that she doesn’t know how to do eggs.”

While other kids enjoyed chocolates, my mum, aunt and uncle – first-generation immigrants – got hard-boiled eggs for Easter. Although Mum says she felt cheated out of confectionaries, the process of tenderly decorating these objects is a special part of their family history.

I don’t want to lose it. It’s part of our heritage.
—Mary Wright

“It connects me to my mum and my culture,” Mum says, while pinching a chip from my bowl.

The tradition of egg-dyeing happens in the week leading up to Orthodox Easter, but cannot be done on the Friday.

“On Friday, you’ve got a funeral taking place,” my aunt explains.

“To be a dyeing something red, which is you know, a joyous colour, is not synonymous with mourning.”

Although egg-dyeing is steeped in thousands of years of tradition, occasionally there are contemporary flourishes. As Mum wraps one of her eggs in a heart-shaped leaf, she recalls one of her earlier trials.

“Do you remember that year when we tried the diamantés?” she remembers. “We tried to jazz them up a bit.”

When asked how it went, she looks down. “Not very well,” she admits with a laugh.

Covering the eggs with patterns from plant cuttings is a technique Yiayia picked up after migrating to Adelaide. A relative from the Peloponnese region of Greece presented her half a dozen of these modern-looking eggs, and she was enthralled.

“Her sister-in-law one time bought her eggs and they had been done like they this, and she went, ‘How did you do that?’,” my aunt says, translating for Yiayia.

Over the course of the evening, our conversation travels through religion, migration and Yiayia’s past life in the village (an experience of poverty, but also lots of love). Eventually, the 48 hard-boiled eggs are deemed sufficiently adorned.

Tomorrow, they will be submerged in a special red dye for a finishing touch, and then on Sunday – after we’ve devoured a massive feast – we’ll play the egg cracking game.

Each family member around the table gets one egg, and we’ll take it in turns trying to smash each others’. Whoever’s egg survives the assault is the victor. Your prize: a year of good luck. (Allegedly.)

Before we pack up, I ask my aunt why she likes decorating the edible objects. Partly, it’s a time to catch-up, gossip and eat Turkish delight and chips, she says, but also “it’s just such a special time with Mum, and it’s just so ingrained”.

“I don’t want to lose it. It’s part of our heritage. It makes Easter Easter. Just for this moment.”

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