Cumberland Times-News

March 20, 2008

There is a reason to celebrate

Betty VanNewKirk, Columnist

This is the time of year when I dye hard-boiled Easter eggs. It is not a necessary activity; it may even be silly since I have neither children nor grandchildren on hand to hunt them. But, like the cookies at Christmas time, they are a part of the seasonal celebration and I wouldn't feel right if I didn't conform.

When the children were small, Bill and I dyed a couple dozen eggs and hid them under cushions, in the buffet's silver drawer, behind furniture, or mixed in with toys. Then, one year, the older boys decided that hiding was more interesting than hunting, and suggested that we parents should hunt what they hid in the second-floor bedrooms.

It turned out to be more of a challenge than we had expected. Those little fiends moved a full-size mattress to drop an egg into the spring in the middle of the bedframe.

They found an opening in the hem of a chintz drapery, and tucked an egg into the toe of a slipper at the very back of the clothes closet. Fortunately the eggs had been counted, otherwise we would have given up, and at least one egg would have been found by its smell sometime after the Fourth of July.

Some egg-hunts are community-wide, usually out of doors. Eggs are rolled each year on the White House lawn, and Bill told us about "picking eggs'' - one youngster hitting another's egg with his own to see which had the toughest shell. The winner pocketed the egg he had cracked.

Our eggs were colored with commercial vegetable dyes, but my parents remembered boiling eggs with beets to give them a rich red color, or wrapping them with onion skins to make a fascinating abstract pattern that ranged from ecru to deep mahogany.

I don't know why eggs have become associated with Easter celebrations. Is it a carry-over from the hard-boiled eggs that are part of a Jewish Passover meal? Is it because in the strict-abstaining Orthodox congregations eggs are proscribed during Lent along with meat and fats, dances and weddings? Or is the egg, looking like a lump of marble but containing the essence of life, a symbol for the resurrection of Easter?

There are other Easter traditions that persist, although their original significance has been lost. An "Easter outfit,'' for instance, usually means a new dress, appropriate to the milder temperatures we expect at Easter time.

But I remember talking to a girl who told me that her mother would not allow her to go to services on Easter Day unless she - and all her siblings! - were dressed from head to toe in new clothes. It was not a fashion statement, or an attempt to impress their neighbors. It was a sincere belief that new clothing was the outward and visible sign of the new life they enjoyed because of the miracle of Easter.

To a lesser extent, that same mood was reflected in the congregation as a whole. The somber woolens of winter were set aside, and pews were filled with ladies in bright colored dresses and flower-decorated hats.

The service began with a trumpet-blare and continued with hymns that repeated, one verse after another, Hallelujah! It was a happy blend of celebrating the end of winter and the promise of eternal life.

Bunny rabbits are often given to children at Easter time, but they, too, are symbols of life in abundance. Similarly, the bouquets that are carried into the chancel are made up of the flowers that only weeks ago were locked into hard, onion-like roots - again, showing us that life merges from the most unlikely-looking sources.

The specially-marked days on the calendar are not just occasions for closing City Hall or promoting sales at our shopping centers. They are celebrated for a reason, a combination of religion and folklore and family tradition. They come together in a wonderful blend as I turn my attention to coloring a clutch of Easter eggs.

Happy Easter!

Betty VanNewkirk is the historian for the Frostburg Museum.