29 Mar 2021
GASTRONOMY AND TRADITIONS. The Easter “Egg”.
The history of Easter eggs or Easter cakes (“mona”)
During Easter week it is traditional to enjoy a unique, sweet gastronomy, mainly made of chocolate, on Easter day. This is the Easter monkey. It takes many different forms and each season it is usually related to fashionable themes of the same year or of the period in which it is celebrated.
The existence of the ‘mona’ as an Easter sweet treat has been documented at least since the 15th century, although it is suspected to date back even further. Many plausible origins are attributed to this custom.
Etymologically, the clues lead back to ancient Arabic, where ‘mûna’ was understood to be a land-lease tribute paid in cakes, agricultural produce and hard-boiled eggs. From this language it would have passed into Latin, where the offering took the name ‘monus’ (‘present’ or ‘offering’). In Latin, however, there is also the word ‘munda’, the word for the decorated baskets filled with objects, particularly cakes and pastries, which the Romans offered to the Goddess Ceres during the month of April.
According to tradition, it has been the custom for centuries for godparents to give them to their godchildren. The history of the “mona”, however, goes back to ancient Egypt, where friends and family gave each other decorated eggs to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It was a time when nature was reborn and plants flourished.
Although we have archaeological evidence of eggs being offered to the dead in prehistoric tombs, the tradition of offering them dates back, according to some sources, to the 4th century. This information indicates that long before the Christians there was a symbolism throughout the Mediterranean associated with the egg.
As an emblem of Easter, the egg became associated with the idea of resurrection and the concept of return. During the Middle Ages the Church reinforced this symbolism by linking it to the resurrection of Christ, in an attempt to neutralise its pagan character. The egg symbolises the tombstone that closed Christ’s tomb, which miraculously opened on Easter Sunday. Moreover, in the Middle Ages, during Lent, not only the consumption of meat but also of eggs was forbidden; therefore, at the end of Lent, eggs were painted and given as gifts, which could now be consumed. The Greeks and Romans gave eggs to each other to celebrate spring. During the Middle Ages, turtle eggs were used and decorated. That is why there is also a tradition of painting eggs with bright colours.
In Anglo-Saxon countries, on the other hand, the tradition has evolved in a different way. There, it comes from Germanic mythology and stems from the worship of “Oestern”, the goddess of spring. It is customary to decorate eggs, called “easter eggs”. Nowadays the painted eggs are hidden in the garden for young children to look for and find. Here, too, the origin of the tradition is the same, as it celebrates the return of life after the cold and darkness of winter with the few hours of sunlight. Spring returns, with all its burst of light and colour.
In some countries the Easter tradition is marked by a figure from folklore, the “Easter Bunny”. According to Lutheran tradition, he was a kind of judge who judged the behaviour of children to determine whether they deserved toys or coloured chocolate eggs. This symbol of the rabbit also appears in pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon celebrations and represented the goddess “Easter”, a symbol of fertility, which in the earthly realm is transformed into the figure of the rabbit. This symbol has been used in certain northern European countries to represent Easter today. These traditions go back a long way. In pagan antiquity, the egg was also linked to the genesis of the world and the beginning of each new biological cycle.
Although there are some variations in the traditions, they do have a common thread, depending on the culture, in which on the one hand it ushers in spring and on the other the end of the period of fasting and abstinence from food during Lent. In almost all countries it is represented by chocolate figures. The delivery of the “mona” takes place on Easter Sunday and in Mediterranean countries, on the following day, families get together to eat it. Although the main ingredient is chocolate, the first ‘monas’ that appeared were initially made with a dough of plain bread flour, which later became sponge cake dough and hard-boiled eggs, and later chocolate was added. Precisely at the end of the 19th century, these sweets began to take on the shape of an egg and started to appear mainly in France and the rest of Europe’s confectioners, as they already had the machinery to mould chocolate. The Fabergé Egg is a jewel inspired by the colours of Easter eggs. However, the great boom was not until the First World War, which caused the price of sugar to rise sharply and confectioners were forced to find another ingredient to make Easter Eggs.