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Roll it down a hill, dress it up on a bonnet or simply tuck into your egg as we crack into Easter’s past times

By Paul Carson

Feel like rolling your egg this Easter? Well why not!

Of course the neighbours may look at you rather oddly and your family may start phoning psychiatrists, but if you stand your ground and explain that you are merely honouring tradition, these difficulties will sort themselves out.

After all, the egg is the symbol of Easter and better men than your neighbours have rolled it merrily since the thirteenth century and probably before that. It is in fact one of the earliest known symbols of the spring festivals that preceded the Christian era in many parts of the world, an indication of new life and birth.

Some credit the ancient Persians with exchanging gifts of eggs at this time of year.  Which will come as a surprise to many of us, who didn’t even know ancient Persians kept hens.

However you don’t have to go to Persia for your eggs, any good supermarket would do. In 1290 Edward I ordered up to 450 to be coloured for distribution at Easter. A pretty magnanimous gesture which cost him, according to his preserved household accounts, the princely sum of 18 pence. But that was before we had the lion mark and the British Egg Information Service.

Coming forward a few hundred years there is an account of Easter Monday egg rolling at Burton-on-Humber, while at Birkenhead they even had special grassy mounds to facilitate things. These mounds gloried in the romantic name of the ‘bouks,’ and to lend a dash of spice to the festivities each bouk had a wicket at the bottom through which the locals tried to roll their eggs – unbroken.

It will be appreciated that by then eggs had probably gone up in price, so not the cheapest way to celebrate Easter.

Of course eggs have their limitations, and nobody realised this better  than our ancestors. They thought up all sorts of different ideas to mark “the death of winter and the birth of spring.”  A strange one to catch my eye was in 1511, a royal command went out to:

“Cleane out the Fyres of Black Winter Brandes, and all thyngs that is foule with fume and smoke shall be done awaye and the Fyre gaily arrayed with fayre floures and strewed with green rysshes all aboute.”

This was a popular measure with chimney sweeps and florists, but it leaves you wondering just what sort fires they kept in those days. Still, cleaning out the grate is a pretty tame way of celebrating anything.

So happy Easter to you all, and merry rolling!

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