Each Lenten season, local Viennese artisans pack more than 40,000 eggs into individual cardboard dividers and carefully deliver them for display at the Old Vienna Easter Market in Freyung Square. This charming square, only a few blocks away from Vienna’s famed opera house, becomes a bustling marketplace in the spring for the sale of the eggs. They are the focal point of the Ostermärkte, and there is no better place in Vienna or the world to experience their delicate beauty. In fact, it was the allure of the Easter markets that brought us to Vienna this month.
With a peach-flavored wine spritzer of Easter-season wine (trust us, it was amazing) market goers attempt to weave through the maze of fragile eggs without knocking any over. At prices of 5 to 15 euros per egg, causing a palette to tip would be a very expensive purchase indeed.
The tradition of the Easter egg predates the event it has come to symbolize. Eggs were originally painted during pagan spring festivities to celebrate new life and recall images of spring flowers. It is no surprise that they have been incorporated into the Christian Easter season to thus represent the new life brought by Jesus and his resurrection.
The eggs are hollowed out through a blowing technique and hand-painted, a process that lasts many months. Though they come in all sizes, from tiny quails’ eggs to gigantic ostrich one’s, the most popular style is the chicken egg.
The traditional patterns are those of a solid color, generally red, with geometric designs, but, in modern times the eggs are designed to appeal to all tastes and ages, from sports-themed paintings for youngsters to religious depictions to fanciful spring animals. Any guesses as to which egg we chose for ourselves?
The more delicate masterpieces can each take an hour or more to complete while others involve multiple dyes and the application of glitters, jewels, embroidery and appliques. Each artist has his or her unique style though we were unable to discern how the artisans at the Freyung Ostermärkte tracked which eggs of theirs were sold as no stickers or other distinguishing marks are found on the eggs.
Of course, other springtime handicrafts are sold at the Ostermärkte: artisanal cheeses, spring liquors, wood working, and marzipan creations. There are bunnies to pet and folk bands to listen to while drinking some flower-scented grog.
At the end of this post is a video from Romania where hand-painted Easter eggs are also a traditional art, as they are in much of Central and Eastern Europe. The video is simply beautiful, and we invite you to watch it.