bunny with wheelbarrow

House Diary: Easter

Although, as a pagan, I don’t celebrate Easter per se, Christianity’s secular arm has appropriated so many pagan symbols of the season that if you look around the house, it appears that I do.  Even the English name for the holiday itself derives from Eostre, a Teutonic deity, goddess of spring, who could transform herself into a rabbit and was fond of handing out colored birds’ eggs to her devotees.  That probably sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Images of bunnies and eggs abound in the house, but there’s also an extensive collection of shamrocks and leprechauns, with St Patrick’s Day another early harbinger of the spring season (I’ve already profiled those decorations in my last edition of this series, but you’ll doubtless find some repetition in the embedded pics here) and of course lots and lots of spring florals, the natural symbols of the holiday.  The real-life version of the earliest of these has already been covered in “Garden Glimpses”, but there are many more silk versions inside.

Part of the rabbit collection for Easter, focusing on retro imagery; there are more than 400 rabbits total in the collection

As a child, of course, growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family, Easter was a very big deal indeed, but I always gravitated more to the cultural elements than the religious ones.  The whole family gathered at my maternal grandmother’s Nazareth home on Easter Sunday, for some good post-church service grub and an impromptu egg hunt in her garden.  I had at least four annual egg hunts at my disposal in my youth, one given by a kind neighbor on Good Friday afternoon, a second held by the Church at Nazareth Park on Saturday morning, the third early Easter morning in my parents’ home, and the outdoor hunt at Nana’s that afternoon.  Of course I recognized the ones at home as those I had dyed myself a few days earlier, but we maintained the fiction of the Easter Bunny for many years after I outgrew that legend.

A closeup of one of the rabbit shelves, which are also liberally sprinkled with chicks
OF-bunny-detail2
Detail of one of the retro shelves; that dapper gent in the rear is ready for any weather, with his tightly furled umbrella and broad-brimmed top hat

But even more than hunting eggs, I enjoyed dyeing them.  As March approached, I always invaded my mother’s pantry to make certain that there was enough leftover dye materials from the previous year, and if not I hounded her mercilessly until she bought fresh.

This lighted blow mold bunny has brightened my spring nights for decades, complete with a few chick friends and baskets of eggs in my signature Ostara colors of yellow, pink and purple

We typically used the Paas egg-dye kit, which consisted primarily of tiny bottles of red, yellow, blue, purple and green food coloring, and a delivery system of double-headed Q-Tips, with a cotton swab on both ends of the stick.  You had to pay attention to what you were doing, because if you accidentally dipped a yellow swab into the green dye bottle, there’d be major tainted color issues going forward!

Some of my colored eggs this year; later I added purple and blue
Eggs of a more durable variety: the marble egg collection, in a woven basket of my signature Ostara colors

Mom and I usually dyed our eggs on Maundy Thursday after school (not that we called it that, the term was far too Catholic for our PA Dutch protestant household).  But the school was closed on Friday, so our egg-dye debauch was the official start of the long holiday weekend.  Mom always used a particular old kettle with a heavy bottom and an ill-fitting lid for cooking her eggs, a piece of kitchen equipment I never saw at any other time of year.  I never thought to ask why she chose that pot, so worn and discolored over time, but I now suspect it may have been the one her mother used for a similar purpose.

The main display shelves, each housing a different subgroup of the collection
The daddy bunny (right rear, in the purple trousers) harvests vegetables for the spring feast with some of his endless brood
The mommy bunny (center) collects flowers for the table with the rest of the litter

The kettle was already on the boil when I got home, and the dining table covered in newspaper, with the dyes and swabs laid out.  Mom quickly fished out the first eggs, which were so hot they burned your fingers, and had to be cradled in paper towel to work with them.  This, in turn, created its own hazard, because if dye got smeared on the toweling, it might rub off onto the next egg by accident, and ruin the design.

Chicks are an integral part of the holiday as well; after all, without eggs, what would the Easter Bunny hide?
The brown rabbit collection, highlighting “natural” field rabbits, without anthropomorphic details (unless you count the dummy board rabbit pulling an egg carriage with a coachman chick)

Mom was usually fairly minimalist in her decorating; solid colors, bicolored, or polka dot eggs were her specialty.  I, on the other hand, went for more intricacy of detail, crafting complex striping, abstract forms, and fanciful pictures of tulips, hyacinth, daffodils, even chicks or bunnies.  Some ideas worked, some didn’t.  Mom often colored only a few eggs, but kept me supplied as she moved on to preparing the evening meal.  We probably did about three dozen in total.

It seems every season has a hinged box collection; the miniature figurines beside them were “surprise” inclusions in the boxes
The egg cup collection; the eggs themselves are wax and very lightweight, reducing the likelihood of toppling

Mom never used natural dyes, but as a tween I learned the secret of onion skin eggs from my grandmother, and came to love the rusty tones to be garnered by slipping a handful of browned papery skins into the pot when the eggs were boiled.  To this day I keep a small plastic tub in the cabinet above the kitchen counter, and squirrel away especially dark onion skins when I encounter them in the course of my cooking throughout the year, so there is always a supply on hand when I want them.  In the ’90s I endured a brief Martha Stewart-inspired excursion into natural dyes of other types, from carrot tops to turmeric and beetroot, but none yielded pleasing results.

The kitchen windowsill sports my collection of faux chocolate candy molds, as well as a few retro-style dummy boards and an Easter egg light string
It’s not just faux candy molds I collect, but faux chocolate bunnies as well; most are “nude”, but some appear to be “foil-wrapped”

I no longer decorate eggs elaborately or buy kits, simply adding food coloring to the cold water, plus a bit of white vinegar as a mordant, after the eggs are submerged, but before the heat is turned on.  Once they come to a gentle boil, the pot goes off the heat and sits covered for an hour before removing perfectly cooked eggs, beautifully dyed.  My early training from depression-era parents kicks in, and I frugally don’t waste dye or water, starting with a pot of yellow eggs, to which I add blue dye to create green once they are removed and I’m ready for the next batch; then starting fresh with red food coloring for pink eggs, to which I add blue for purple tones in round two.  The onion skin eggs stand alone.  I make my eggs much earlier, too, so they are ready for Spring Equinox and the Ostara celebration, but since I still make about three dozen, for just me, there are always some left for Easter itself. 

Retro Easter plaques adorn one wall of the stairwell: St Pat’s plaques are on the other
More plaques top the lifesize “bunnies in basket” resin show piece, which is backed with artificial daffodils and forsythia, and fronted by groupings of eggs in my signature colors

In the late ‘90s I went through a faux pysanky phase, hand-blowing the contents out of raw eggs to create permanent, if crude, versions of the dazzlingly intricate Ukrainian Easter eggs.  Once emptied and rinsed, I used a wax crayon to cover portions of the shell in a geometric design, dipping the egg in a succession of colored dyes, working from light to dark, and covering more and more of the egg each time, to preserve sections in the latest color before moving on to the next.  I still have many of these, though they are fragile and occasionally I lose one to breakage.

The hall bookcase holds more of the overflowing collection, with a focus on white bunnies
The white egg cup bunnies hold handblown eggs I colored myself

The tradition of specialty foods is trebled at this time of year, as I will make some form of Irish favorites for St Patrick’s Day (always including colcannon and Irish soda bread, but varying the sides and protein from year to year); then the Ostara brunch for Spring Equinix, with its bagels and spreads, bacon-mushroom quiche, beet salad and coleslaw; and an Easter dinner based on my grandmother’s menu.  If I’m having guests, I’ll bake a ham (with my patented Dijon/honey/fig preserve glaze), but if I’m solitary, as this year, I’ll fry ham steaks, as my grandmother did.  Au gratin potatoes and sugar snap peas are the usual sides, and the de rigueur starter is always endive with hot bacon dressing, an old PA Dutch favorite.  As a kid, we had fresh spring dandelion for this, culled by my grandfather from Nazareth Park behind their house, but the hothouse variety of dandelion just isn’t the same, so I use curly endive, which Nana also did in years when Easter fell too early for a decent crop of dandelion to be up and doing.

Two views of “Bunny Egg Hunt in the Park”, also on the hall bookcase; there are 84 bunnies in this one panorama alone

There’s one more tradition I keep up annually, thanks to an assist from ABC.  Just like when I was a kid, I always stay up late the night before Easter to watch “The Ten Commandments”, and count how many times they say, “Moses, Moses!”  

The collection spills out into the guest bedroom with more baskets, pails, and a few stuffed rabbits
Even the bathroom is not immune, with this assemblage of miniature figurines topping the toilet tank

And that’s this pagan’s Easter!

Alex Miller

Alex Miller is a professional writer and astrologer, author of The Black Hole Book, detailing deep space points in astrological interpretation, and the forthcoming Heaven on Earth, a comprehensive study of asteroids, both mythic and personal. Alex is a frequent contributor to “The Mountain Astrologer”, “Daykeeper Journal”, and NCGR’s Journals and “Enews Commentary”; his work has also appeared in “Aspects” magazine, “Dell Horoscope”, “Planetwaves”, “Neptune Café” and “Sasstrology.” He is a past president of Philadelphia Astrological Society, and a former board member for the Philadelphia Chapter of NCGR.

4 comments, add yours.

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edna

I’m in awe! What a fab spectacle!

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Marianne

What enjoyable Easter memories–you took me back to my childhood in the 50’s with the egg dying and Easter decorations. One can’t find them any longer in stores, but we had fluffy little chicks made out of pipe cleaner-like material. I loved those little chicks. Sometimes one could find a mama hen in the same pipe cleaner-like material. We had little bird’s nests made of natural fibers and tiny artificial eggs. And I always loved big Easter Baskets that we could play with year round. Love your collection!!! I’m a Pagan too, in a broad sense, so delight in Ostara!

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Laurien

So delightful! And I enjoyed learning about Eostre. It’s nice that you have such happy memories of your childhood Easters and decorating eggs with your Mom. I hope the Easter Bunny rewards you with lots of yummy goodies!

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loel

Alex, thank you for the trip down memory lane! Remember dyeing eggs with Paas products. Dressing up for Easter Sunday in my finery with my grandmother, always so prim, proper, and solemn. But the fun for me was always the smells of early spring while hunting for Easter eggs! The loamy smell of the earth. All manner of flowers opening up, tiger lilies blossoming, flags waving, crocuses, swaying gently in the breeze, cherry trees in bud, all snowy white, cool late morning turning into a warm, bright afternoon! The prayers before dinner, ham coming out of the oven, granny’s apron. Memories missed every season, each with its own special fragrance.

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