Just as the Ukrainians, Romanians, and Poles (as well as other Central and Eastern European countries) have their own traditions surrounding Easter Eggs, so do the Lithuanians. Lithuanian Easter eggs are called margučiai (mar-GOO-chay), a word which references their many colors. Decorating Easter eggs is a centuries-old folk art that is still practiced today.
Read more about Easter in Eastern Europe.
Types of Lithuanian Easter Eggs
Margučiai can be decorated either with the wax-resist method or with a scratching technique. Lithuanian wax-resist-style eggs show a particular trend: the markings on the egg are tear-dropped shaped, and these tear drops are arranged in patterns over the surface of the egg. The egg artist dips the stylus in hot wax and draws the drops onto the shell of the egg, then bathes the egg in dye. Those artists who stick to the practices of their forebears may use onion skins, beetroot, or other natural dyes to color the eggs. The scratching method requires that the eggs are dyed first; the design is then etched into the shell with a pin or knife.
(Eastern Europe's Easter eggs are decorated in a variety of ways. Read about types of eggs from Eastern Europe.)
Meanings of Easter Eggs
Historically, many of the designs for Easter eggs symbolized important events or ideas in the lives of people working the land, including fertility, luck, and blessings. Symbolism on the eggs included stars, wheat, crosses, flowers, birds, and snakes. Colors were also significant, playing a role in the meaning of each egg. Many old designs are preserved, though modern dying methods and artists’ creativity has expanded upon the old Easter egg-decorating customs.
In the past, Easter eggs were given as gifts. And children would often visit neighbors or relatives during the Easter holiday to collect eggs from others. When not associated with Easter, eggs were used as lucky charms or in rituals to ensure bountiful harvests, healthy livestock, good weather, or other phenomena important to farm and village life.
Margučiai in Lithuanian Culture Today
Lithuanians maintain their connections to their egg-decorating ancestors, and several serious egg artists are working in the country today. The late Marcelijus Martinaitis, one of Lithuania’s most beloved national poets, was dedicated to egg decorating until his death in 2013, and the books produced about his work show joyful, colorful designs in keeping with Lithuanian heritage. Lithuanian news outlets reported on his annual egg-decorating projects, providing readers with interview quotes and information about his methods.
Margučiai can be purchased in souvenir shops in Lithuania today or at holiday markets, especially those that occur in the springtime. However, the decorations found on Lithuanian Easter eggs are not limited to eggs alone. Pottery artists have transferred the patterns used on eggs to ceramic wear; it is possible to find jugs, plates, bowls, and mugs that boast the designs found on margučiai.
Easter Egg Games
In Lithuania, Easter eggs that have been decorated find use in children’s games. Children, for example, roll eggs down a slope. Each player tries to hit the others’ eggs, which have collected at the bottom of the incline, upon each roll. People will also crack eggs end-to-end; the person whose egg suffers cracks loses the game.
The decoration of Easter eggs in Lithuania is only one way in which the Lithuanians maintain a connection with their heritage. Margučiai are well-known in egg-decorating circles, and craft conventions, markets, and shows that draw the attention of egg artists often have representation by a Lithuanian egg artist or an egg artist of Lithuanian heritage practicing this popular folk art. Some even display or sell their creations on the internet, meaning you don’t necessarily have to travel to Lithuania to add margučiai to your collection.