History was made–fast–on a Monday afternoon in the Bartlett Trophy Lounge at the University of Chicago. At 5:00pm on April 20, the Armenian Students Association, in partnership with the Center for Eastern European and Russian/Eurasian Studies, hosted its first annual Armenian Easter Egg Cracking Tournament. By 5:32pm, the festivities were over.
For those familiar with the Western Christian calendar, the date (one week after Easter Monday) may seem like an odd choice. But, said fourth-year student Mark Berberian, president of the ASA and a third-generation Armenian, it was a deliberate choice to cater to Eastern Orthodox sects, who celebrate Easter one week later than the Western tradition. Compared to the size of Armenia (small) and the Armenian student population at the U of C (very small), the gathering was sizable. Twenty people assembled to try their hand at an ancient tradition fraught with symbolic meaning.
Mark, who prepared 48 eggs for the tournament, explained that the eggs are traditionally boiled in onion skins, which impart a deep red color to the shells that represents the blood of Christ. Asked about the origin of the game, Mark took a second to consider the question. “It’s just for fun, I guess!” he said jovially. (A quick Internet search reveals that the symbolism goes deeper. Tradition has it that the eggshell represents the tomb of Christ and the act of cracking the rolling away of the stone on Easter morning, while the egg yolk, concealed in white “clothes,” stands in for the body of Christ.) To accompany the eggs, fellow student Kati Proctor prepared six loaves of a braided Armenian Easter bread called choereg. While the assembled egg crackers gobbled slices of the bread, shoring up their energy for the imminent battle, Mark explained the rules of the game.
Each person selected an egg (the red ones went first) and clutched it in one hand with either end sticking up. Two lines were formed facing each other and each partnered pair decided who should strike first. Mark, my partner, destroyed my egg within a matter of nanoseconds. But I wasn’t out yet. “You still have one life,” Mark said, pointing to the other end of my egg. In the next round, the impaired crackers paired up with each other for the final showdown and the uncracked crackers did likewise. I was immediately relegated to the sidelines, where I watched a ten-year-old girl triumphantly beat out Kati in the final round with a victory shriek of “I got the lucky egg!” The celebration didn’t last long, but still Mark Berberian was pleased. “We were hoping to get a lot of non-Armenians at this event,” he said. And with a significant look at yours truly, he added, “It looks like a success.”