An Easter Ritual Steeped in Culture and Competition
When I was in third grade, a friend invited me over after school to help decorate her family’s Easter eggs. I watched as her mother made a tiny hole in each tip of the egg, handed it to us, and then instructed us how to delicately blow out its contents. Then, she said, after the egg was empty we would color it. Very, very carefully, she warned, because they are very fragile.
“Then when do you crack them?” I asked.
“Crack them? The whole idea is not to crack them!” My friend and her mother looked puzzled. Or alarmed. Perhaps both.
“Don’t you do the egg cracking contest on Easter morning?” I asked, explaining my family’s tradition of dividing up into pairs to each hold an egg and gently (or not so gently, depending on who was holding the egg) tap on the other’s egg to see which one cracks and which one remains intact.
The winner, I explained, is the one person who ends up with the uncracked egg.
They looked confused, never having heard of egg cracking. Or contests. On Easter. I started to ask around, wondering if any of my other friends enjoyed this holiday tradition. But we were the only family I could find who turned Easter into a competitive sport.
Or were we? Years later, when I was studying in Russia, I was invited to someone’s house for Easter. The eggs looked different; rather than the pastel shades we normally achieved using the Paas dye tablets, these were colored organically, boiled in onion skins and beets to a deep burgundy. But when I saw two people across the table from me tap on each other’s eggs, my heart leapt.
Of course! In Russia, the church followed the Orthodox calendar – the same calendar that the Armenian Eastern Orthodox Church followed. It made perfect sense to me that my own Armenian relatives followed similar Orthodox traditions. The Greeks share the same Easter tradition, a ritual, I later learned, that is steeped in religious symbolism, with the egg symbolizing the shell of Jesus’ tomb. The cracking of that shell symbolizes resurrection.
Later I returned to work in Moscow, where I celebrated Orthodox Easter with my friends. While many of the rituals were unfamiliar to me—such as the Krestny Khod, or candle-lit walk around the outside of the church before entering for the late-night service—there was one tradition that connected me to the childhood ritual I held dear. The cracking of the eggs.
In my family, the game was stripped of its religious symbolism, with each competitor jockeying for bragging rights. And while each smashed egg may not have represented the resurrection, it did represent something special in our family—a tradition we continue to share today. With occasional twists and turns. We like to welcome newcomers to what we affectionately refer to as the Babakian Cup. Their inexperience often plays to their advantage: the newbies usually win.
And then there was the year my mother inadvertently dyed some eggs that had not been hard-boiled—an oversight we only learned about during the heat of the competition, when egg yolk splattered everywhere.
But there are some certainties upon which we can rely: The egg in absentia for the family member who is unable to attend; my father cheating, by attempting to protect the top of his egg with his thumb; and my brother Glenn, who hasn’t won the contest in over 60 years, will predict, erroneously, that this year he will be the victor.