Everyone, at least everyone around here, is familiar with the art of Ukrainian easter eggs. The intricate patterns created on the round canvas of an egg using wax and dye is one of the best known examples of folk art. Still, you might find that you didn’t know some of these tidbits:
1. Pysanky, the Ukrainian word for the art, comes from the verb pysaty, meaning “to write”. The designs are written on the egg using a stylus. Krashanky means “to decorate”: that’s the word for Easter eggs that are dyed a single colour.
2. Traditionally, egg dyes were made from dried plants, roots, berries, insects and bark. The best known colours are gold and red, both produced by boiling the eggs with onion skins.
3. The tradition of writing pysanky began to fade in Ukraine during the 30s when Stalin’s purges, then World War II, rebuilding and achieving independence overshadowed traditional folk art. Much of the history of pysanky was lost: for example, an entire collection of seven thousand written eggs in a Kyiv museum was destroyed. However, the Slavic people who emigrated to North America carried on the tradition, preserving it for when the old countries were ready to take up writing pysanky once again.
4. The art of creating designs on eggs predates Christianity. As in many ancient cultures, Ukrainians worshipped a sun god (Dazhboh) as the source of all life. Birds were particularly valued because they alone could fly up to the sun. Eggs were representative of both the birds and rebirth, the coming of spring. Decorated with symbols of health, fertility, prosperity and other ambitions, an egg was a precious talisman.
5. The people who carried the egg talismans in life were buried with them – or at least reproductions of the eggs in more durable materials. More than 70 such eggs have been found in ancient graves in Ukraine, in the graves of both children and adults.
6. If you go visiting this Easter it’s wise to exchange pysanky with your hosts to ensure fast friendship. Once upon a time, decorated eggs played an important role in courtship: what couldn’t be said aloud could be written on an egg and given to your sweetheart as a promise or a wish.
7. Do you crush your Easter egg shells and throw them in the garden? Did you know that that custom is associated with the rich folklore of pysanky? Just one of the stories about breaking egg shells and scattering them is that they must be crushed into such tiny pieces that a witch could not use them to collect dew. If she could do that, she could then use the dew to spoil a cow.
Whether you have beeswax and a stylus, dye, stickers or sparkles, enjoy decorating, hiding, finding and eating your Easter eggs this weekend. Remember to take a good look at any egg that is given to you, and make sure you crush those shells really well!
If you know something about local traditions, Town Spirit wants to pick your brain! Please leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can all be a little bit wiser 🙂