Easter egg stunts: Exploring some holiday traditions

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 4/21/11] 

Easter is April 24. Like Christmas, it’s another one of those holidays that tends to become less exciting the older you get. Sure, it’s a time to see family and all that good stuff, but it doesn’t ever get any better than it was when you were a kid.

Looking back, the nonreligious parts of Easter seem unreal. All that candy and running around — why would parents be OK with this? It’s like the holiday was cooked up by a think tank comprised of hyperactive 7-year-olds.

I can see them sitting around a plastic Playskool conference table in their little business suits scheming:

Kid 1: “Let’s have a holiday where we make our parents give us candy.”

Kid 2: “Lots of candy!” Kid 3: “Like a crazy, stupid amount.”

Kid 2: “And let’s make them hide it all so we have to tear up the house looking for it.”

Kid 1: “Fun!”

Kid 3: “Yessss!”

My family was (and still is) no exception to the Easter mayhem. There was of course, an Easter egg hunt. Each year, our house was turned into a pastel minefield or plastic eggs and green hay. As the youngest child, I had these hunts all to myself; there were no other siblings in the game vying for their share of candy (though, they would often pick through my stash afterward).

As I outgrew the hunt and my siblings’ kids became the focus, I discovered that, as grandparents, my parents had become much more generous and inventive in their Easter egg hunt planning.

For one, the venue changed. It was moved outside, spanning about three acres of varied terrain and creating a field of play that was certainly more exciting than the living room where my hunts had been.

The other new twist was revealed one year when my oldest nephew cracked open one of the eggs to find a $20 bill inside.

“I just found $20!” he shouted from across the yard. My siblings, who up to that point had been sipping Bloody Marys with the other adults on the front porch, were suddenly dropping their cocktails and joining the game to “assist” their respective children in the hunt.

As expected, the adult traditions in my family are centered on food. Namely, eggs.

The connection between eggs and Easter is as old as the holiday itself. Easter, like Christmas, can trace some of its traditions back to pre-Christian pagan practices. (Case in point, the Easter Bunny is derived from Eostre, the goddess of fertility, who favored taking the form of a rabbit.)

The eggs, on the other hand, seem to be Christian. There are a couple egg origins connected to the Resurrection, but the most interesting one takes place following the Ascension.

According to the story, after Christ’s ascension, Mary Magdalene and some of the Apostles showed up in Rome where they spoke to the emperor about the Resurrection to which he incredulously replied, “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.” (Apparently, people just carried eggs around back then.) And guess what? The egg turned red. The rest is history.

(If you’re wondering how rabbits came to lay eggs, you’ll have to ask the people over at Cadbury.)

In my family, eggs dominate the Easter menu. For decades, my family has made our version of the traditional Italian Easter Pie — a rich, heart-stopping combination of eggs (three-dozen), prosciutto and cheese baked in an equally rich crust of lard, flour and more eggs (another half-dozen). The result is something like a massive quiche or a frittata, only much, much denser. According to my mother, the recipe has been in the family since at least my great-grandmother Giovannina (Belushi) Sabataso made it. Her daughter Mary (Sabataso) Gallipo carried it forward, teaching it to my mother, who says she looks back fondly on the decade or so of those pre-Easter baking sessions with Aunt Mary.

The pie is served chilled, typically sliced small — just enough for a taste — though, some are apt to help themselves to larger cuts. Despite what it will do to your arteries, it really is a treat — rich and salty from the Prosciutto with a flaky crust.

In accordance with the “Law of Italian Cooking,” my father portions out large bricks to be distributed to family and friends deemed privileged enough to get a taste.

From its preparation, typically on Holy Thursday or Good Friday, to its serving on Easter Sunday, the pie is a tradition every step of the way — right down to the warm, eggy aroma that lingers in the house all weekend.

However, some traditions such as our deviled eggs are decidedly less sanctified. Personally, I have mixed feelings about deviled eggs in general. There’s something about them that I find unappetizing. Nonetheless, I always end up sampling one, mainly to confirm my dislike.

As a family tradition, this one is much more suspect, and its origins are varied and considered apocryphal by some.

According to one story, there was a time when deviled eggs were ubiquitous on appetizer menus for parties at The Palms. After a season of parties, the staff and family began to question this odd choice. “Were people requesting it?” they wondered.

Eventually, the eggs were traced back to either my father or one of the managers (this is still disputed) who had been telling clients that deviled eggs were “a Palms tradition” not to be missed.

Why they did this, we don’t know; though, I would guess that it had something to do with their personal proclivity for the eggs since both managed to snag more than a few as they sat in the kitchen to be served.

From then on, deviled eggs became a running gag at the restaurant — an item we’d joke about adding to a menu to “really class it up.”

The origin of how they came to the Easter table grew out of the restaurant story. As the egg gag progressed, my mother began making them for holidays at the house. At the point, where the joke should have run its course (three holidays or so), the damn things kept showing up.

Somewhere along the way my sister, Jill, told our mother that her husband A.J. loved deviled eggs and looked forward to them every time he came over. There was absolutely no truth to this.

My mother, always eager to please, continued to serve the eggs — placing them in front of my A.J. each time, making a show of having his supposedly favorite dish.

This went on until A.J. finally asked my sister what was up with the eggs, to which Jill copped to making the whole thing up.

We all had a good laugh but, while the deviled egg occurrences dropped off, they didn’t disappear entirely. Every Easter Sunday a plate of them show up without fail. Apparently, my mother is taking the long view on this gag, thinking that if she keeps serving them, it will eventually be funny again. Time will tell.

As always with Easter, I look forward to the candy and the eggs (even the deviled ones), and looking on as I once again get totally gypped on yet another Easter egg hunt.

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