The Latin expression “omne vivum ex ovo” sums it all up—”all life comes from the egg.” The hatching of an egg, a living creature emerging from a still object, is a miracle. The egg piques one’s curiosity, sense of mystery, and fascination with its flawless form and smooth surface. This may be why many religions incorporate eggs into their symbols and celebrations—the circle of life, the beginning of life, a perfect oval.
By Aylİn Öney Tan
Many religions tie in eggs in their spring festivals as a symbol of life. There are many such festivals celebrated in Turkey celebrated by different communities, including Tu Bishvat, Nevruz, Easter, Pesach (Passover), Hıdırellez, and Aya Yorgi (St. George’s Day).
Eggs are also versatile in the kitchen. They can be whipped into a foam and hold their shape as if solid while remaining soft. Eggs can be cooked in a variety of ways, including boiled, poached, fried, scrambled, or whisked and are indispensable in countless dishes, both savory and sweet. The foundation of many recipes, eggs are at once complex and simple.
Spring festivals kick off in March, with the first day of the season on March 20. One of the largest celebrations is Nevruz, or Nowruz in Farsi, which means “new day” and marks the beginning of the new year. While the holiday is largely regarded as the Persian New Year, the holiday has roots in Central Asia and the Ottoman fiscal calendar followed this norm. Celebrants mark the holiday with open-air festivals, picnics, dancing, playing sports, and eating foods that call for a rich bounty for the upcoming year. Freshly sprouted grains that invoke fertility and a new start adorn the table, surrounded by dried fruits and nuts of the previous year—all of which must be consumed in order to be replaced by the new fruits of the coming year. All things green represent youth and health, and the narcissus flower—also called a daffodil—brings joy. Nevruz is never complete without eggs.
Eggs are also synonymous with Easter, when many countries celebrate by giving brightly colored eggs as gifts or incorporating them into games for children. During Lent, the period leading up to Easter, many observers abstain from eating eggs, as well as all meat and dairy products. In Christianity, the Easter egg symbolizes birth and Jesus’ resurrection, with the hatching of the egg akin to the emergence of Jesus from his tomb. The Orthodox Assyrian community in Mardin, which calls Easter İdo Dakyomtö, attributes a symbolic meaning to all parts of the egg: the shell represents the coffin of Christ, the embryo stands for Jesus, the yolk is the light he shines on mankind, the thin vitelline membrane the burial shroud of Jesus, and the white a symbol of his purity.
Pesach, or Passover, is another occasion when eggs take a central symbolic place on the festive table representing the circle of life. Eggs are called betsa, pronounced similarly to beyza, the Ottoman word for eggs and also associated with mourning as a hard egg is eaten after a funeral, again in hope for rebirth. At the Sephardic table eggs come in the form of Huevos Haminados, eggs slowly cooked for hours with onion skins attaining a deep burnished auburn color.
Another spring festival is Hıdırellez, which is celebrated May 5 and 6. Similarly to Nevruz, the holiday is celebrated in nature as a picnic holiday, starting the first evening and continuing all the second day. According to legend, this is the day when the prophets Hızır (al-Khidr) and İlyas (Elijah) meet on earth, the former of which is a symbol of greenery and earth, and the latter a symbol of seas and water. On the second day, earth and water unite, nurture the plants, and paint nature green. Again, when picnicking on the waterside, boiled eggs appear as the unshelling of the eggs stands for undoing and getting rid of the misfortunes of the previous year.
Spring surely is the time for eggs-centric feasts, whether it be for one of these occasions or just to enjoy the treat. So let’s get cracking and celebrate!