IBL AL-SAQI, Lebanon: Celebrations of Easter will take place throughout the weekend for Eastern Orthodox Christians, but the holiday is just as important for the Druze community of this southern border town.
As Easter Sunday approaches, Druze residents pay visits to their Christian neighbors, to congratulate them on the holiday.
Suleiman Ghabbar, the mukhtar of Ibl al-Saqi, says that a highlight of the weekend is “Egg Thursday,” in which the Druze engage in the same egg-cracking ritual that their Christian neighbors perform Sunday.
“It’s a friendly way for Druze in Ibl al-Saqi to share in the holidays and occasions celebrated by Christians in south Lebanon,” Ghabbar said.
“People young and old take part, in a type of ‘formal’ gathering in the public square of the Druze neighborhood of the village,” he said.
Each “contestant” takes a colored, hard-boiled egg and cracks it gently – or not so gently – against the egg held by a competitor. The losing egg is the one that cracks in the collision, and by tradition should go to the winner.
A handful of members of the nearby UNIFIL Spanish battalion also took part in the egg-cracking ceremony this year.
Ibl al-Saqi residents say their community’s embrace of the egg-cracking ritual is centuries old, but hasn’t been retained in all Lebanese Druze villages.
But getting to the bottom of the origin of the practice is difficult – residents have several explanations for why they gather, eggs in hand, every Easter.
One is that the egg is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, and breaking the egg represents Christ’s departure from his tomb following the Crucifixion.
But other residents say the egg ritual is a holdover from pagan days, and specifically the ancient Egyptians, who believed that the egg was a symbol of life, and that the belief was carried over to the Greeks and Romans.
A third, more improbable version holds that Mary Magdalene visited the Roman Emperor Tiberius and informed him of Christ’s resurrection, to which he replied that it was as likely as an egg turning red – the story says that an egg in the vicinity miraculously turned red as a result.
Another, more likely explanation of the association of eggs and Easter focuses on periods of fasting, whether Christian or pagan. Because eggs were off-limits, their supplies accumulated during the fast, and when it came to an end, a large quantity was suddenly available.