Thursday, 1 April 2010

Rolling of the eggs

The pre-Christian Saxons had a spring goddess called Eostre, whose feast was held on the Vernal Equinox, around 21 March. Her animal was the spring hare and the rebirth of the land in spring was symbolised by the egg.

Pope Gregory the Great ordered his missionaries to use old religious sites and festivals and absorb them into Christian rituals where possible. The Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Christ was ideally suited to be merged with the Pagan feast of Eostre and many of the traditions were adopted into the Christian festivities. In Great Britain, Germany and other countries children traditionally rolled eggs down hillsides at Easter and it is thought that this may have become symbolic of the rolling away of the rock from Jesus Christ’s tomb before his resurrection.

In the UK, the tradition of rolling decorated eggs down grassy hills goes back hundreds of years and is known as "pace-egging", from the Old English Pasch meaning Passover. There is even an old Lancashire legend that says the broken eggshells should be carefully crushed afterwards or they will be stolen and used as boats by witches.

Arthur's Seat, in Edinburgh, is one of the traditional egg rolling sites, alongside the castle moat at Penrith and Bunkers Hill in Derby. Beacon Hill near Newbury, Berkshire is also an ideal spot. The eggs were traditionally wrapped in onion skins and boiled to give them a mottled gold appearance (although today they are usually painted) and the children competed to see who could roll their egg the furthest.

The eggs were eaten on Easter Sunday or given out to pace-eggers – fantastically dressed characters that processed through the streets singing traditional pace-egging songs and collecting money as a tribute before performing traditional mumming plays.