On Saturday, April 15, 2017, the Michigan State ARSP research team attended the Holy Saturday Divine Liturgy service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lansing, Michigan. Holy Saturday is the Saturday of Holy Week, which culminates in Easter Sunday. After the service, researchers joined congregants to help wrap dozens of red eggs for an evening celebration. The eggs had been dyed bright red and were ready to be wrapped in tulle.
It is traditional in Greek households and in Greek Orthodox churches to crack red eggs at Easter, symbolizing Christ’s resurrection. Other Eastern Orthodox churches have similar customs. Among Greek Orthodox parishioners, the egg cracking is often part of the game known as Tsougrisma, which starts with two people tapping red eggs together. The eldest member of the family traditionally begins. With the first tap, the players say, “Christo Anesti” (Christ has risen). The player whose egg does not crack moves to the next person with an uncracked egg. With this tap, players say, “Alithos Anesti” (Indeed, Christ is risen). The person with the uncracked egg at the end of the game wins, and, it is said, will have good luck for the following year. Playing the game at home is always festive, and going to great lengths to win is considered part of the fun.
Tsougrisma is only played during Orthodox Easter. People who play the game have developed different ideas about why the eggs are symbolic of the liturgy at the end of Holy Week and Easter and why the eggs are dyed red. Some people say that the egg shell symbolizes the tomb where Jesus was placed after his death, while others note that unlike the pastel colors used for Easter eggs in Western Christian traditions, the deep red color used by Greek Orthodox congregations symbolizes the blood of Christ. Cracking the egg, some people believe, represents Christ’s resurrection. The egg itself, others say, symbolizes eternal life. Families generally provide their own interpretation of the symbolic details.
What about the tulle wrapping? What does that represent? Nothing. As Fr. Mark Sietsema explained at the end of the service, the tulle is wrapped around the eggs so that when the congregation cracks eggs at the end of Saturday night’s Paschal Vigil at midnight, he will not get red dye on his vestments. Thanks to the thin cloth covering the eggs, congregants’ hands and clothes also will stay clean.
The sounds of congregants and ARSP team members wrapping red eggs in a small room near the sanctuary after the Saturday service, reminds listeners that religious practices extend to many aspects of peoples’ lives outside of formal worship. The informal conversations and giggles during the wrapping highlight the community bonds forged during activities in religious spaces, as well as the happy anticipation of performing tasks that bring the participants closer to the celebration of Easter. As people catch up on each other’s news and lives, we hear the close connection between religious celebration, family reunions, and community gatherings.