Lent and Easter
in the Domestic Church

Craft: Making Easter Eggs

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

Page 58 in "Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"

Unlike the Easter bunny with which they are so often associated, Easter eggs have a legitimate place in Easter observances and in Lenten preparations.

Enclosing and protecting the little chicks, eggs represent new life in the world, and so they also represent new life in the Church. With their smooth, hard shell hiding the life within, they symbolize hidden promise, Christ coming out of the tomb.

Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church

"Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"
at the
Catholic Company store.

Decorating eggs for Easter, placing symbols of Christ and the Resurrection on their surface, is an obvious and natural extension of this significance. The Ukrainian culture is well known for its decorated eggs called pysanky, though other traditions decorate eggs as well. Traditional symbols for Easter eggs and pysanky include:

There are several beautiful Ukrainian legends linking Easter eggs and the Blessed Virgin Mary. One tells that Mary filled her apron with eggs. When she appeared before Pontius Pilate to plead for her Son, she dropped to her knees, and the eggs rolled out over the world until they were distributed to all the nations. (There is an interesting parallel between this legend, which is certainly several hundred years old, and the image of Mary on Juan Diego's cloak half a world away in Mexico.) Another legend describes the traditional dots on the eggs as representing the tears of the Virgin, who gave eggs to the soldiers at the Cross. As she begged them to be less cruel, she wept, and her tears fell on the eggs, giving them brilliant dots of color.

Many families set aside a day or two for decorating Easter eggs (Good Friday and Holy Saturday in the midst of the spring cleaning is one choice), while others work on more elaborate eggs all through Lent. Some families we know set up a card table in a quiet corner and keep all their supplies there. Any time someone has a spare moment, he can just sit down and work on his egg. There are a wide variety of methods for decorating eggs (and other egglike shapes), some requiring a high level of skill, others needing only enthusiasm. For example:

Papier-mâché Eggs

These are good for younger children to make and decorate, because they are larger and therefore easier for small hands to handle. They are also less likely to break than an egg. Papier-mâché eggs can also be filled pinata-style with candies and small devotional objects and used for Easter morning. Children can manage all but the last step of preparing these eggs. You will only need to supervise according to age.


Making the Papier-Mâché Egg

Blow up a regular-size balloon to about a six-inch egg shape and knot it securely.

Tear newspaper into strips. Do not cut it, tear it. The ragged edges of torn strips mesh together better and make stronger, smoother papier-mâché.

Next, make a mix of watered-down glue or wallpaper paste for adhesive.

Saturate one torn strip of newsprint in the glue. Apply it to the small balloon. Cover the balloon one strip at a time. Do not apply the strips on top of the knot of the balloon (where it has been tied). Work around this opening, maintaining the smooth shape of the egg. When the egg is completely covered with four or five layers of paper (but if the kids are having fun, more will not hurt), set it aside to dry overnight.

The next morning, pierce the balloon and remove the tattered remains. (Dispose of these where little ones will not chew on them and choke.) Allow the egg to dry just a little more, and then apply an additional layer of papier-mâché. If you want to fill your eggs, do so now, then cover the balloon knothole with papier-mâché. Allow the egg to dry thoroughly.

Finally, decorate the eggs with paint or markers. Crayons or colored pencils probably will not work as well, because the surface is too bumpy. Simple stripes or dots look great; so do zigzags and pictures. Paint a coat of varnish on the egg for a shiny finish. (An adult should take care of this last step.)

Decorated Real Eggs

Eggs can be blown, dyed fresh (unblown), or hard-boiled. Blown eggs are more fragile, and blowing them without having a large unsightly hole is tricky. Fresh, unblown eggs can be used (they will gradually dry out), but they make a real mess if they break while you are dying them, and they really stink if they break three weeks later. Hard-boiled eggs will not last at all, but they are the most durable for family use; you will just be eating egg salad for a week or so after Easter.

Natural Dyes

A number of colors are possible from simple ingredients you can find in your kitchen, in case you forgot to buy coloring or do not want to use food coloring or those funny tablet things. These colors will be paler than the artificial dyes, and it takes a bit more time to create designs on eggs using natural dyes, but it is still possible. The general method for preparing and using natural dyes is as follows:

Put your eggs in a single layer in a pan. Pour water in the pan until the eggs are covered, and add about a teaspoon of vinegar.

Next add the natural dye material for the color you want your eggs to be. (The more eggs you are dying at a time, the more dye you will need to use.) Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for fifteen minutes. Obviously, this method will produce very hard-boiled eggs. Remove the eggs from the pot, and put them in a bowl to cool and dry. If you want your eggs to be a darker shade, cover them with the dye and let them stand overnight in the refrigerator.

The colors possible with natural dyes are:

Food-Coloring Dyes

This is one of the easier and cheaper ways to dye Easter eggs. The dyes found in Easter egg-dying kits sold in grocery stores are not really any better. Besides, if you do not buy the kits, you do not have to explain why the Easter bunny or a cartoon character is not really suitable for decorating an Easter egg. Your children's creativity gets to develop without commercial influences.

To make a food-coloring dye : In a fairly deep cup, such as a coffee cup or a small bowl, mix about twenty drops of food coloring with one teaspoon of vinegar. Add one-half cup hot water, then let the water cool to room temperature. You want the coloring to cover the egg completely when put in the cup, so mix up more dye if necessary. Repeat the steps above to make as many different colors as you want, mixing dyes to make colors such as purple or orange.

Gently lower eggs into the cup. This is easiest with a piece of wire with a loop on one end bent at a right angle to the rest of the wire. The longer you leave the eggs in the dye, the darker the colors will be. Once the egg reaches the desired color, remove it from the cup with your wire loop, and let dry on a wire rack (the kind you cool cakes and cookies on).

Adding Designs to Your Eggs

Simple single-color eggs are certainly faster than decorated eggs. They look nice piled in a bowl as a centerpiece. If single-color eggs are all you have time or skill for, stick with that. If you want to try something more elaborate, here are a few ideas, starting with the simplest.

Dipped Eggs

Dye eggs a light color, such as yellow or pink. This will be your background color. Allow to dry. Hold the egg carefully in the egg holder and lower it halfway into another dye container. (You can bend the handle of your egg holder over the edge of the cup at the desired depth if you wish.) Hold it there as long as you want, then remove the egg and allow it to dry. The longer you hold it in the dye, the more intense the color.

Tie-dye Eggs

Dye eggs a light color, such as yellow or pink, as your background color. Allow to dry. Wrap one or two elastic bands around the egg in a random pattern. Dye the egg with a darker color. Allow to dry, and remove the elastic bands. If you want, repeat the process with a third color.

Masking Tape Eggs

Dye eggs a background color, such as yellow or pink. Allow to dry. Stick thin strips of masking tape on the egg, around the long and short circumference, dividing it into sections. Dye the egg with a darker color. Allow to dry and remove the masking tape. If you want, leave the first tape in place, put more masking tape in the spaces, and dye with a third color. Allow the egg to dry, then remove the masking tape.

Scratched or Resist Eggs

This method allows slightly more elaborate patterns with finer lines. This is not a good method to use with young children, because it uses melted paraffin wax and hot water. Always melt wax slowly over water in a double boiler or in a soup can placed in a pot of water. You need enough wax in a container to cover the egg completely. As soon as it is all melted, remove it from the heat.

Dye eggs a light color, such as yellow or pink. This will be your background color. Allow to dry. After the egg is dry, dip it into melted paraffin wax. After the wax is dry, etch your design by scratching through the wax with a darning needle. Make sure you scratch all the wax off your design. Then dip the egg into another color of dye. Because of the wax coating, only the lines you scratched will pick up the new color.

If you want, scratch more designs on the egg and dye it in a third color, or re-wax your egg to preserve the second color pattern and scratch more patterns. Dye the egg again and allow to dry. Remove the wax by heating the egg slightly in hot water, and polish the surface by rubbing in any remaining wax.