Like many egg-centric diversions that take place on or around Easter, egg rolling is a curious springtime celebration with ancient pagan roots that's been co-opted and woven into Christian tradition. Although the game varies from culture to culture, community to community, essentially it's a race where hard-boiled eggs are rolled down a hill unassisted or pushed through grass with long-handled spoons. (Lucy Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, hosted the first egg roll on the White House lawn in 1878.)
It's kind of bizarre once you stop to think about it. No less bizarre — and amusing — are these three other Easter traditions that don't warrant a 35,000-person event on the White House lawn: egg dancing, egg tapping and last, but not least, egg tossing.
Warning: You'll probably want to lay down some plastic sheeting — or head completely outdoors, safely out of sight from the prying eyes of the neighbors — for this one. It’s a shame that the egg-dance or hop-egg (which was a massively popular springtime diversion with the medieval Saxons that went on, centuries later, to become a Vaudeville standard) hasn’t managed to retain its popularity outside of the ren faire circuit as it is fairly entertaining to watch. The basics: Lay a bunch of eggs on the ground, generally in neatly organized rows. Next, strap on a blindfold, put on some frolicsome Celtic tunes, and begin to prance gaily amongst the eggs without destroying them. Are we sensing the next big horrifying corporate team building activity here?
In his book "Tap Roots: The Early History of Tap Dancing," Mark Knowles explains that the egg-dance was originally rather religious in nature as it involved the dancer bobbing, bouncing and leaping amongst a cross-shaped configuration composed of 12 farm-fresh eggs standing in for the 12 apostles. Later, the egg-dance was a staple of traveling minstrel shows, while Dutch painter Peiter Aertsen depicted an entirely different — and somewhat more challenging — brand of egg dancing in 1552's "The Egg Dance" (above). And in addition to birthing the schoolyard game of hopscotch, those wild 'n' crazy dance moves like the Lindy Hop that your dad keeps on rambling on about also originated from the egg-dance.
If egg dancing and an ages-old Easter game called egg knocking (or egg tapping or egg jarping) prove anything, it's that all that was needed in the Middle Ages to get a party started was a basket full of oval-shaped embryonic vessels. The rules of egg tapping are easy-peasy: Two competitors, each brandishing a colored hard-boiled egg, square off to see who can crack the other’s egg when they’re tapped firmly together end to end. Whoever emerges with the unblemished egg is crowned as the winner and moves on to the next challenger.
Still all the rage in Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria and American retirement communities alike, Easter egg tapping — pâquing — is also a huge deal across southern and central perishes of Louisiana, particularly in the Cajun outpost of Marksville, aka "Egg Knocking Capital of the World." A cherished annual tradition since being formally introduced via city ordinance by mayor Edgar Coco in 1956, Marksville’s Easter Egg Knocking Contest includes different age divisions and categories for both chicken eggs and guinea eggs.
Marksville’s seasoned egg knockers spend weeks, even months, prepping before they descend on the courthouse square on Easter Sunday and abide by numerous practices to ensure that their eggs are simply uncrackable (yes, there are cash prizes involved). Providing laying hens with a robust, calcium-rich diet is key (no supermarket eggs!) as is observing proper boiling techniques (slowly and point down!). Apparently, some residents boil their eggs in pans lined with rags so that they emerge competition-ready, while old-timers swear by boiling the eggs in coffee grounds.
Don't drop the eggs! (Photo: Camp Pinewood/flickr)
Although the particulars of organized egg tosses vary, essentially the goal is this: Throw an egg as far as you can across an expanse of grass without it breaking when it touches the ground. Not much else to it.
And then there’s the "serious" (although not official) sport of competitive raw egg throwing, an activity overseen by the World Egg Throwing Federation. As a sport, egg throwing deviates from the kid-friendly act of decorated hard-boiled egg tossing — often combined with egg hunts and rolls — in that it is a team activity and is not tied to Easter. Similar to a water balloon tossing contest, two-person teams battle each other to see which can throw and catch an egg over the greatest distance without it breaking.
Team members, alternating their catching and throwing responsibilities with each round, start the competition at a predetermined distance — 10 meters is the standard according to the WETF — and move farther apart from each other with each throw. And since this is a serious sport and all, there are rules that must be obeyed: Protective gear must be worn, no gloves or nets are allowed and performance-enhancing drugs are strictly verboten. In 2012, a Dutch team took top honors in the main event at the seventh annual World Egg Throwing Championship in Lincolnshire, England. Organizer Andy Dunlop tells BBC News of the win: "The Dutch are heroes in their country — it was front page news in some papers in Holland."