Evidently, like birds, bees and educated fleas falling in love, many cultures have practiced the tradition of “Eppering” with Easter eggs.
They may call it egg-knocking, egg-cracking, eiertikken, conking, opfern, shackling or tsougrisma, but at my house, we called it “Eppering.” Eppering in my world involved wrapping your hand around a colored Easter egg so as little of the top showed as possible, while someone else tapped the egg with the tip of their colored Easter egg. If yours broke, you had to turn the egg over and give the other person another chance. If both ends of your egg were broken, you lost your egg.
Dad would go through all the dyed Easter eggs until he found one he was happy with, testing the shell for strength by tapping it on his teeth. Then, with a big, toothy, scary grin, he chased us all around yelling, “Epper, Epper!” challenging all of his traumatized children to an “Epper contest.”
Now, my father never let us win a game of Monopoly in our entire childhood, and he was no different with his Eppering. (My husband beat him once at chess, and he never played with him again.) Mom could be heard chastising him (“Oh, George, let the kids win!”) for gleefully snatching our broken eggs, even though he put them back when we went to bed. Inheriting my father’s competitive gene, even after I grew up and moved out, I’d bring my special “Epper egg,” carefully chosen by tapping it on my teeth, to my parents’ house on Easter to compete.
The practice of Eppering is reported to have been brought to America by European Catholics. “Opfern,” as some Germans refer to Eppering, is a German word, meaning an offering, or to sacrifice. We always assumed this was a German custom since my father’s family was “Pennsylvania Dutch” (a derivative of Pennsylvania Deutsch, but the “English” found it easier to just say “Dutch”), his farming ancestors coming to the York, Pennsylvania, area from Austria in the 1750s. But in my research into the origin of Eppering, I discovered many cultures practiced this game.
In Bulgaria, Eppering, or egg-cracking, is done before the Easter lunch when people greet each other with the Easter greeting, “Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen,” three times before tapping the eggs. The winner, the last person with an unbroken Easter egg, is said to have good luck for the year. Egg-cracking is taken very seriously in Lebanon. The children meet in the square, and the Easter egg is first tested on the eye tooth to find the best egg. The contestants then agree on how much of the egg to cover. They first tap the pointed ends of the eggs, then the round end, winning the egg if both ends crack.
In the Netherlands, “Eppering” is called eiertikken, meaning either “overtaken” or “to knock eggs,” depending on which dictionary you believe, and in Greece, the game is called tsougrisma, meaning “clinking together” or “clashing,” and the premise is the same (only in Greece the Easter eggs are always red) — whoever cracks the most eggs without breaking theirs wins. The Scots practice “egg-conking,” the Irish call it egg-jarping. In the Egerland region of the Czech republic they play Eiertitschen, in Cumbria it’s called egg dumping and in England they say egg-shackling. In Northwestern Germany it’s referred to as eier-spacken or eier doppen. In some regions of Bavaria, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland it is called Ostereiertitschen or Eierpecken. And South Louisiana practices “Pocking Eggs” (or egg knocking or egg pacqueing), where the winner is required to eat the conquered eggs after each round.
While “eierpecken” seems to sound the most like the word “eppering,” I cannot find any official definition, translation or origin of the word “Epper,” so that particular mystery shall evidently remain so. Likewise, the origin of the game is murky. Some say the breaking and surrendering of the egg represents Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. I’m more inclined to believe that, way back in antiquity, some kid decided to make his little brother cry. And he was probably an ancestor of my father.