Food

Why my childhood birthdays were full of red eggs

Feb 06, 2019

When I was a child, every year, without fail, my mother would take over my classroom mid-lesson to throw me a birthday party.

Part of me was mortified with embarrassment, and part of me loved being the center of attention. She’d go all out with a homemade cake, stir-fried noodles, and fried rice from my parents’ restaurant.

There would also be a basket full of red eggs.

In Chinese culture, red dyed eggs are often presented at birthdays, weddings, and parties to celebrate one month since a baby’s birth. (One month was a significant milestone in pre-modern China, when infant mortality was high and many babies didn’t survive the first month.)

“Red eggs represent birth and new beginnings.”

“Red eggs represent birth and new beginnings,” my mother says.

According to ancient folklore, the tradition began as an offering to the gods. It was an appeal from parents to bless their children and protect them.

“Eggs have always been auspicious to the Chinese,” says Xueting Ni, a writer and speaker on Chinese culture. “There is the popular creational myth of Pangu, in which the world began as primal mass shaped like an egg. In the early dynasties, eggs were painted and often given as a gift.”

Colored eggs are also part of Lunar New Year celebrations. In northern China, tea eggs are a popular New Year’s food because their brownish color resembles the shade of gold, and represents the promise of wealth and fortune in the new year.

Tea eggs are a popular New Year's dish in northern China.
Tea eggs are a popular New Year's dish in northern China. / Photo: Shutterstock

In the case of birth celebrations, red is the color of choice because of its association with luck, happiness, and fertility.

“Dyeing the eggs removes their white color, which is considered unlucky in traditional Chinese culture because it signifies death,” Ni says.

I have fond memories of watching my mother carefully wrap each egg individually in red paper and boil them in water.

As they cooked, the ink would dissipate, turning the water into a crimson bath.

“People used to boil them in sumu 苏木 [sappan wood], an ingredient used in traditional Chinese medicine,” Ni says. “Nowadays, you can buy them in shops, pre-dyed and printed with lucky messages.”

She would force-feed me eggs not only on birthdays, but also days that required extra luck, such as the first day of school and big exam days.

Their luck, in my mother’s eyes, was versatile. She would force-feed me eggs not only on birthdays, but also days that required extra luck, such as the first day of school and big exam days.

Of course, dyed eggs are not confined to Chinese culture. In Christianity, the Easter egg is symbolic of the rebirth of Jesus Christ. The dye is said to represent the blood of Christ.

And in Greece, the Easter egg is incorporated into a game where each player tries to crack each other’s eggs. Whoever succeeds is said to have good luck for the year ahead.

The egg: a universally beloved symbol of birth and fortune. No wonder it got more likes on Instagram than Kylie Jenner.

Good Luck CharmEggsChinese New Year

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