Mixed & matched | Is it wrong for my kid to color eggs

Dawn Kepler leads Building Jewish Bridges, a program of Lehrhaus Judaica that embraces Bay Area interfaith families. “Mixed & Matched” offers advice for Jews in interfaith relationships and families. Send letters to [email protected]

My daughter has asked to dye eggs this year and decorate them for Passover. Perhaps with the Ten Plagues? Since we typically have eggs on our seder table, it sounds fun to me. Any advice? — Multitradition Mom

Yours is just one of many questions I’ve received this month about painting Easter eggs. Spring brings Passover and Easter, sometimes right on top of each other. While Jews are focusing on slavery, emancipation and unleavened bread, Easter seems to be focusing on bunnies, candy baskets and egg hunts. The real meaning of the holiday gets lost on a lot of Jewish families, especially the children. So I did some research on Easter that may be helpful in deciding what is best for your own family.


The Easter story

Easter is not a jolly holiday; rather, it is the story of a gruesome death. Its ending is positive for believers, in that the resurrection of Jesus symbolizes salvation. Easter is impossible to separate from its Christian message.

So be prepared for the visceral reaction from many Jews to the idea of celebrating Easter in any way. You may feel you’re just doing the chocolate part of the holiday; others may see that as unacceptable.


The Easter egg

The early Christians actively proselytized, and one method was to absorb the traditions of the community into which they spread their faith. Reinterpreting a ritual and reframing it using Christian symbolism was a less obvious way to displace the religions of indigenous peoples.

Easter, like many Christian holidays, borrows heavily from pagan springtime practices. The tradition of coloring eggs goes back thousands of years in pagan traditions. The egg was widely used as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. Painted eggs are still used at the ancient Iranian spring holiday Nooruz. Pysanka eggs, those gorgeous wax-resist dyed eggs from Ukraine, also date back to a pagan religion.

The Easter egg is the latest addition to these spring images. It is also called the paschal egg, “paschal” meaning “pertaining to Easter or Passover.” How’s that for mixing things up? The egg was reinterpreted to symbolize the sealed tomb in which Jesus’ body was placed. Just as a bird hatches alive from an egg, in the Christian narrative so too did Jesus emerge alive from the tomb. The message is that believers experience eternal life. Traditionally the eggs were dyed red to symbolize the blood of Jesus.


The Easter bunny

Rabbits are known to be quite fertile, so their association with springtime and birth is natural. Ancient Greeks believe that the rabbit was a hermaphrodite and could reproduce without a partner. Christianity interpreted this to mean that the rabbit remained a virgin, and it became associated with the Virgin Mary.

So what do we do with this knowledge? Clearly there is nothing Jewish about Easter. Celebrating or observing any of the rituals of Easter, whether you see them as Christian or pagan, is going to be seen as “not Jewish” in the Jewish community. Now you must ask yourself, what do I want to teach my children?

If you want to color eggs because “it’s fun,” I suggest you teach your children the historical meaning of painted eggs. Teaching them the truth equips them to respond with confidence, and probably greater knowledge, to anyone who challenges them. You can say, “Decorating eggs has been a tradition for thousands of years in other religions; here are some of the ways that it was done and understood by people from other places in the world. We are painting them because it’s fun and pretty and we are learning about their history.”

 And Multitradition Mom, I really love your idea of painting your eggs as the Ten Plagues. You could tell your daughter that people from different backgrounds borrow from each other, and you are borrowing the idea of painted eggs and turning it into a Jewish expression for your family. You could use the eggs as part of your seder table decorations and get the kids to guess which egg is which plague. It’s not a Jewish tradition now, but maybe someday it will be. Judaism has absorbed other things.

Dawn Kepler
Dawn Kepler

Dawn Kepler leads Building Jewish Bridges, a program that embraces Bay Area interfaith families. “Mixed & Matched” offers advice for Jews in interfaith relationships and families. Send letters to [email protected].