Did you know that Bulgarians traditionally dye eggs for Easter?
Yeah, I know. Americans do, too. But Bulgarians are really into Easter eggs, though!
dyeing 5,000 eggs in a Bulgarian monastery
Peace Corps volunteers are told that the presence of a sickeningly optimistic, naive newcomer can inspire locals to see their home country with new eyes. Likewise, conning my man into moving to Bulgaria with me has refreshed my curiosity about my former Peace Corps site.
Lorenzo, being naturally more inquisitive and observant than I am, has lots of questions. To my shame, I usually can’t answer them. I know more about Bulgaria than the average American, but not half as much as I should, considering I’m fluent in Bulgarian, lived here for two years, and have heard the country’s history, recited in Homeric monologues by at least four old men I met on trains, beginning with the words, “Thirteen-hundred years ago…”
A typical trip through town with Lorenzo is like this:
“Who’s that?” he asks.
“Uhh, Saint Sofia?” It was a good guess, considering it’s a giant statue of a beautiful saintly woman with a crown on her head, a huge bird and a wreath of laurels, and it’s smack in the middle of the city, which is called Sofia.
“Neat, what’d she do?”
Or, as we’re riding down General Totleben Boulevard, he’ll ask, “Who was General Totleben?”
“I guess he was probably a general,” At this point we’ve reached Macedonia Square.
“Why is it called Macedonia Square?”
“I don’t know, because Macedonia is next to Bulgaria?” At least I know that.
Good Friday and whatever-the-Monday-after-Easter-Sunday-is-called (Lorenzo’s the Catholic, not me) are both national holidays, which makes Easter a four-day weekend. I guess Christ rose so that for two extra days I don’t have to, at least before noon. Just as Americans ask their coworkers what their plans are for a long weekend, for the last few days our friends have casually asked us, “Are you going to dye eggs?”
“Why do people keep asking if we’re going to dye eggs?” said my beloved this morning, “I’m a grown-ass adult. I haven’t dyed eggs since I was nine.”
Do grown-ups not ask each other that question in the US? I don’t know anymore.
“Bulgarians dye eggs for Easter,” I answered, “And then everyone hits each others’ eggs against theirs, and the last person with a un-cracked egg is the winner, and they save their egg, and they’ll have good luck all year.” Or, as my friend Vonka says, they’re the loser, because they have to keep a hard-boiled egg for a year.
this is the kind of thing you might find on your Facebook wall for Easter
Traditionally, Bulgarian Easter eggs were all dyed red. The first egg to go in the dye pot was supposedly sacred, and was saved until the following Easter (yes, that’s another egg you’re supposed to keep for a year). Those who have introduced heathen colors like blue and orange into their egg-dyeing rituals are still supposed to dye this first one red. According to this post, red eggs are indispensable around the homestead. You can rub them on your boils, bury them in your crops to prevent hail, or just glue the shells to your walls and ceiling for a witchy-chic look.
Once he saw egg-dyeing as another pagan, old-world custom that Bulgaria un-self-consciously carries on, Lorenzo was excited about it. We eschewed the somber bottles of red dye for red onions, like my grandma uses.
The internet told me that leaves, rice grains and other detritus could make resist-dye patterns on the eggs, so I gathered what was in the house: parsley, dill, oatmeal, beans, sugar, yarn, and a granny square.
We used fifteen eggs, seven red onions, and one extra-large pair of pantyhose. Next time, I’ll use three times as many onions and twice as many pantyhose for the same number of eggs.
We peeled the onions and washed the eggs. Each egg we wetted, wrapped with onion skins and stuffed tightly into a knotted pantyhose segment. If we wanted a resist pattern, we’d wrap the egg with a parsley or dill sprig, or a length of yarn, before putting on the onion skin. We messed around with the sugar, oats and beans, but got better results with the herbs and the yarn.
Once an egg was wrapped in onion and tied snugly in nylon, it went into a big pot of water with a tablespoon or so of vinegar. For good measure I also threw in whatever onion scraps were left over from the peeling process. Then we boiled the eggs for twenty minutes, or at least until the electricity to the stove shorted out.
Our trusty stove, whose name rhymes with ‘badger’ in Bulgarian
We waited until the water was completely cooled before unwrapping the eggs, a feat of patience that deepened my understanding of what Jesus must’ve gone through.
The result were mottled, rusty red eggs, just like at my Grandma’s house. Here’s my favorite:
Happy Easter everybody! Христос возкресе! I’m sure these blood-colored eggs are just what He wanted, and have nothing to do with a pagan celebration of rebirth and fertility. -H/Х