It is believed that when Christ was crucified the holy virgin held a basket of eggs on her arm while she cried beneath the crucifix. Christ’s blood colored the eggs red and so began the tradition of coloring eggs at Easter.
In many regions of Rômania the peasant tradition of decorating, giving, and eating Easter eggs symbolizes the end of Lent’s long fast, that spring has arrived, and the resurrection of Christ.
I met Maria Timu, who lives in the Rômanian village of Ciocanesti less than 100 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. I was there working with Aid To Artisans at the time. She decorates hundreds of blown hen eggs each year that she sells during Easter. Her eggs are intricately decorated with geometric and floral motifs.
Taught by a ninety-year-old woman shortly before she died, Maria carries on the Rômanian tradition of decorating eggs with layers of beeswax and dye. With a gold-toothed smile she invited me into her cozy kitchen/bedroom/dining room to demonstrate how she decorates her eggs.
First she extracted the egg from the shell with a large hypodermic syringe. She then melted brown beeswax in a small enamel pot that sits on a home-made heater constructed from a coffee can mounted on a wooden board with a 70 watt light bulb placed inside it. The wax pot perches on the coffee can over the hot bulb while she works.
A pencil length tool, carved from wood, with a small wad of wool secured to the end of the tool with a copper wire is used to draw the wax designs onto the egg. A quarter inch length of wire is bent out and away from the tool. She uses the wire tip to draw fine wax lines onto the egg. The wool traps the wax and prevents it from dripping.
Maria began by dipping her tool into the beeswax and drawing wax designs on the plain white egg. Her designs flow from her imagination and no two eggs are ever alike.
After the first design layer was finished she put the egg in a pot of yellow dye heating on the kitchen stove. She submerged the egg for 15 minutes, removed it, blew it dry and applied her second layer of wax. Everything under the first layer of wax was white, like the egg. The lines underneath the next wax layer were yellow. Her next dye color was red and she finished the process with black. Her finished eggs are predominantly red with accents of white, yellow and black.
Maria knew that I was a designer and sensed that I was itching to try my hand at egg decorating. She put an egg and the wax tool in my hands. My attempt at drawing simple pine trees, spirals and stars was a complete failure! The wax dropped off the wire tip in lumps or ran dry before my design was complete. I was a great source of amusement for her.
When the dying process is complete the beeswax is melted by holding the egg over a light bulb and then wiped off with an old tee shirt. The colorful and intricate layers emerge: geometric stars, crosses and trees of life combined with swirls and floral designs. The eggs are then dipped in some sort of varnish.
Because the export of Easter eggs to Western Europe and the U.S. has become a lucrative way for Rômanians to make extra money, the designs and colors are becoming less traditional and have evolved from using Christian crosses, oak leaves (symbols of strength), flowers and geometric patterns into designs incorporating wild animals, cross stitch motifs, words and fish. Red eggs, however, remain the most popular color for Easter in Rômania.
I eventually met many egg decorators while in Rômania, each with amazing skill and their own artistic style. Somehow I managed to collect and transport two dozen fragile eggs around the country via train and car for a month and get them all home to Vermont safely.
Every Easter I unpack these treasured eggs and set them in baskets on my dining table. They continue to fascinate and inspire me with their intricate and whimsical designs and colors.
To see my Romanian knit yoke click here. For more eggs, click here. Happy Easter!