You don’t have to be religious to enjoy Easter. I’m not just thinking of the pleasures of chocolate eggs and fancy Easter breads or even, in Switzerland, the taste of a shoulder of baby goat roasted with potatoes and an Osterfladen, its buttery crust filled with almond- and lemon-flavored custard.
I enjoy Easter because it takes place during spring. This year the holiday’s relatively early, which means people’s lawns are scattered with wild primroses, Bern’s city parks display swathes of bright-yellow daffodils (“Easter bells” in German), and the steep hill below the Rose Garden is a cloud of pink cherry blossoms.
I like Easter for the eggs, too. As a small child, I loved dying them, letting them dry, and then painting them with watercolors. Unfortunately, once I got old enough to realize how far from my expectations my eggs turned out, I didn’t want to decorate them anymore. But I still liked the idea of Easter eggs.
After Peter’s and my wedding, I moved to Bern in August 1988, and the following spring I learned that the city held an Easter egg market. Once a year, the elegant concert hall in the middle of Bern’s Old Town was converted into an indoor bazaar. Stands were erected where concert-goers normally drank their flutes of champagne, and craftspeople—mostly women, but some men as well—filled them with decorated eggs. From quails, ducks and geese, but mostly from chickens, the eggs had their insides blown out. Then their shells were pricked, drilled, scraped, or waxed; painted, printed, marbleized, or inscribed; glued, gilded, varnished, or wrapped in silk.
The results were magnificent—and there were thousands of them for sale in hundreds of booths. The most famous egg decorators in the Christian world are the Ukrainians, Slovakians, Rumanians, and other Eastern Europeans, lots of whom had stands at the market. But so did plenty of other nationalities, including many Swiss. I went year after year, admiring and occasionally buying.
Then Bern’s Easter egg market ended—I think it was in 2000. I never knew why. I suppose it lost its financial patronage. I was very sad to lose it. But at least by then I had my own small Easter egg collection.
I’ve recently learned about an Easter-egg market in Huttwil, a town of about 5,000 in the Oberaargau region of Canton Bern. Covid-19 has kept Huttwil’s annual spring festival from taking place for two years in a row now, but I’m determined to be there in 2022.
Maybe I’ll buy a new egg. But probably I’ll just spend several hours lost in wonder.