A Lithuanian Custom for Easter 2020

A Lithuanian tradition
A bird’s nest and a picnic table showcase the six eggs I dyed with onion skins on Easter Sunday. My son also dipped the center egg in green dye while trying to produce a black egg.

Every Easter my 22-year-old son, Tim, tries to create the ugliest and darkest Easter egg possible from standard dyes. This year, Tim spotted an egg he thought would help him reach his goal and placed it in our cup of green dye.

After waiting several moments, Tim scooped out the egg. It was brown and puke green, but it wasn’t dark enough or gross enough for Tim.

“I’ve been trying to make a black egg since I was 2 or 3,” Tim told me. “It’s just really cool — not one of the things you think about when you’re dyeing eggs.” 

As he prepared to dip the egg into another color, a thought popped into my mind. “Where did you get that egg, Tim?” I asked. He pointed to a container of eggs that I had dyed earlier in shades of rust and yellow. “Tim!” I exclaimed. “Those are the Lithuanian eggs I dyed!”

For 2020, my family and I used three methods to dye eggs: 1) onion skins; 2) standard egg dyes; and 3) egg paint sold with small sponges and a plastic tray. My mother gave me the glass dish cradling the eggs, and my husband bought the cloth hen at a garage sale. It reminded him of the hen his mother used each Easter to hold decorated eggs.

“Oh,” Tim said. “I thought we could use those.” 

As Easter 2020 approached, I looked for a local Mass to Livestream, donned a mask for shopping, and prepped for our annual traditions. I also wanted to incorporate a Lithuanian custom from my childhood: dyeing eggs  with onion skins, something my mother often did. I’ve thought of doing it several times, but this year, I made it a priority. 

I had a vague idea how to dye eggs with onion skins, but I wanted directions. I lucked out with the ninth edition of Popular Lithuanian Recipes compiled and edited by Josephine J. Dauzvardis. I bought the cookbook in 1991 for my mother from the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture in Chicago. The recipe for margučiai (mar-GOO-chay), or onion-dyed eggs, did not specify what color of onion skins to add to the water and eggs, so I directed my husband to buy both yellow and red onions and planned to make two batches of eggs.

I let the eggs sit in boiling water amid onion skins for different lengths of time to create multiple hues. Afterward, I removed the eggs but wrapped some in the wet onion skins and placed them on a plate (my idea, not part of the recipe!) My half dozen of Lithuanian creations ranged from two light-goldenrod eggs to four rust-colored ones with marbling that varied from apricot to burnt orange. 

“They look like farm-fresh eggs,” my daughter Suzie said.

Another Lithuanian custom: egg cracking. Pick an egg and try to crack everyone else’s egg. My husband, left, and his egg beat me and my egg. When I was a child, we competed at home in egg-cracking tournaments.

Paying homage to my Lithuanian roots helped me feel better during an unsettling holiday season, and I love the earthy look of the eggs. Next year, I may step up my efforts. My cousin Vida, a natiave of Lithuania, uses hosiery to create a cocoon for each onion-swaddled egg before dyeing them. I could do that. Vida’s eggs develop deep, rich, vibrant hues. 

My Lithuanian cookbook offers options, too. After dyeing the eggs, I could scratch designs into the shells with a knife or razor blade. Hmmm. That sounds out of my league, but maybe I could try batik. By dipping a pointed tool into melted wax, I could draw designs on eggs before dyeing them. I’m not good with hot tools — I burn my fingers while using a glue gun — but I would be careful. I do like the pictures online that I’ve seen. 

I also plan to contribute some Lithuanian eggs next year toward Tim’s annual endeavor to create the darkest, baddest eggs possible. If they start out dark, who knows what he can produce. I just hope Tim gets to dye eggs with us; he is a college senior, so despite the pandemic, he may find a job outside central Missouri. If not, he may be able to come home and create Monster Egg Extraordinaire! If he doesn’t come home, perhaps he will dye eggs in his apartment. Oh, to be a bug on the wall!

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