With a glut of chocolate eggs filling the shops straight after the New Year, and hot-cross buns seemingly available all year round, it seems traditional festive celebrations around Easter have become just another opportunity for consumption rather than a focus for communal participation.
Looking for evidence of local Easter traditions we turn to George Mackay Brown, who writes in Letters from Hamnavoe of the practice of his childhood, when on 'the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday' the children of Stromness 'with baskets and tin cans, used to range about the countryside after "pace eggs"'. GMB tells us:
'It was impossible to cover the whole parish of Stromness - Innertoon, Ootertoon, Quholm, Cairston, Kirbister, the Loons. You had to keep to one district; and then only visit farms where there were knidly women and tame dogs. You might come home with anything from six to a dozen eggs in your an, and all unbroken, if there was no fighting or bullying or horseplay on the road'
The children took their treasures home where 'the eggs were boiled, and coloured in various hues; and on the Saturday or Sunday there was a feast of "pace eggs" and spicy hot cross buns'.
GMB goes on to highlight the symbolism of the Easter 'pace eggs' as part of:
' a very ancient ceremony of gifts, with traditions going back further that Christianity, and seemingly universal in the ancient world. The egg is never so plentiful as at this time of year; and to the first tribes of the world it symbolised the life of springtime when the apparently inert egg brike open to reveal a new bird.'This symbolism is for GMB alive and well in the traditions of his Stromness childhood where the universal becomes local and personal:
' So when the peedie boys and lasses of Stromness ranged through the parish for "pace eggs", what the kindly farm wives gave them was an Easter gift; a pledge that winter was at last over, and that soon the earth would be full of the plentitude of summer - young beasts, and birds, and growing oats - and the tide of ripeness would not stop till harvest. And after that there would be food enough in barn and cupboard to last through the darkness of another winter. Life was an endless celebration of death-and-renewal, darkness-and-light, barrenness-and-fruition...'
We wish you all a weekend of celebration, whether your eggs are hard boiled and decorated or made of yummy chocolate, may you enjoy their symbolic promise of new life and renewal.