Egg Tapping

Egg Tapping

Egg Dumping, Egg Fighting, Egg Knocking,
Egg Picking, Egg Shackling

In Europe many people celebrate Easter Sunday by playing egg-tapping games. As a result of immigration from Europe and the Middle East, this game may also be found among pockets of the U.S. population. The custom goes by many names, including egg dumping, egg fighting, egg knocking, egg picking, and egg shackling. Players select hard-boiled, dyed Easter eggs, pair off, and face each other. One person grasps his or her egg tightly in hand, revealing only the tip, while the other knocks their own egg against it. Whoever emerges from this encounter with an unbroken eggshell wins. Then winners from each pair compete with each other until only one person with an intact eggshell remains. He or she is declared the winner. In some versions of the game players may compete with either end of the shell, and are not disqualified until both have cracked.

Egg Tapping among Orthodox Christians

In Greece egg tapping constitutes a popular Easter Week pastime. The bright red Easter eggs used by Greek and other Orthodox Christians have a special religious significance. The red color represents the blood of Christ, the egg itself Jesus'tomb, and the cracking of the egg Jesus'emergence from the tomb, or his resurrection. Greek families may place any egg that survives the egg-tapping contest intact in the home ikonostasi, a special shelf where the family keeps devotional objects, such as religious images, candles, incense, and the Bible. In Greece egg tapping is such a common Easter game that the image of two red eggs knocking against one another may be found on many Greek Easter cards. Winning the egg-tapping game is thought to bring good luck for the year. Some players make a wish before testing their egg against an opponent. Greek folklore teaches that the winner's wish will come true.

In Romania, another predominantly Orthodox country, families play an egg-tapping game that requires each family member to knock their egg against the one possessed by the head of the household. On Easter Sunday they use the small end of the eggs. On Easter Monday and Tuesday they may use either the narrow or the blunt end, or even the sides of the egg. According to Romanian folklore, the person whose egg remains whole will outlive the others.

In Albania the game has spread beyond the Orthodox Christian community, a minority in this predominantly Muslim country, and is played by Muslims and Christians alike.

Armenians also enjoy egg-tapping games on Easter Sunday. Armenian folk tradition encourages a pair of contestants to face each other with a clutch of hard-boiled Easter eggs. They line these up in two rows, pick up the first pair of eggs, and begin "egg fighting." The last to possess an intact egg wins, and may keep all the eggs.

Egg Tapping in Western Europe

In the Netherlands children play an egg-tapping game called eier- rikken. They gather hard-boiled, dyed Easter eggs of various colors and divide themselves into two teams. The teams form two lines that face each other, so that each child is paired with an opponent from the other team who carries an egg of the same color. By tapping one egg against the other, the paired opponents try to break each others' shells. The winner of each match keeps the loser's egg and goes on to face a new opponent. The child who gathers the most eggs wins.

In Switzerland, too, traditional egg-tapping rules permitted the winner of each egg-tapping encounter to take the loser's egg. In past times egg tapping also enjoyed great popularity in the neighboring states of Austria and Germany. German-speaking immigrants brought the custom along when they settled in Pennsylvania. In the nineteenth century the Pennsylvania Dutch, as these immigrants and their descendants came to be known, called the game "egg picking." There, too, losers forfeited their egg.

In some places children play egg-tapping games by knocking the egg against their own forehead. This method of play is popular in Spain and Sweden.

In England the game is known as egg shackling or egg dumping. The winner of each match receives the loser's egg. English historians trace these egg games as far back as the late seventeenth century. In nineteenth-century Dorset people played the game at Shrovetide, or Carnival, rather than at Easter (see also Pancake Day). Indeed the Saturday before Ash Wednesday was once known as Egg Saturday in some parts of England. In the Dorset variation of the game players placed their eggs in a sieve which someone shook until only one egg was left uncracked. The owner of that egg was declared the winner.

Hard Eggs

The desire to win at egg tapping has motivated people to invent ways of coming up with an especially hard, champion egg. Some try to strengthen the shells of their eggs by boiling them, or by soaking them in alcohol or lime for a week. Others seek out guinea-fowl eggs, which are tougher than hen's eggs. Syrian children test their Easter eggs for hardness in advance, by tapping them against their teeth. Bulgarian folklore teaches that eggs laid on Good Friday are bound to be the hardest, as they gain strength from their birth on that holy day.

Further Reading

Griffin, Robert H., and Ann H. Shurgin, eds. The Folklore of World Holidays. Second edition. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1999. Henderson, Helene, and Sue Ellen Thompson, eds. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. Second edition. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1997. Hole, Christina. British Folk Customs. London, England: Hutchinson and Company, 1976. Newall, Venetia. An Egg at Easter. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1971. Rouvelas, Marilyn. A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America. Bethesda, MD: Nea Attiki Press, 1993. Shoemaker, Alfred L. Eastertide in Pennsylvania. Kutztown, PA: Pennsylvania Folklife Society, 1960.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002
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