The Art
      The colorful art of decorating EASTER EGGS, or PYSANKY, has been a Ukrainian tradition for over ten centuries.

      At one time, the egg was associated with pagan rituals and superstitions, symbolizing the release of the earth from the shackles of winter into spring; with its promise of new hope, new life, health and prosperity. In 988 AD when Ukraine accepted Christianity, the decorating of eggs took on a deep religious meaning. The PYSANKA commemorated the Resurrection of Christ, and a promise of eternal life. The pagan superstitions were replaced by religious beliefs and legends.

      One of the legends most familiar in Ukraine tells of a poor peddler who was on his way to market to sell a basket of eggs when he met an angry crowd mocking a man staggering beneath the weight of a cross. The peddler, taking pity on him, left his basket by the side of the road and went to the man’s assistance. The man’s blood dropped on the eggs and decorated them. The man was Christ, the peddler was Simon, and the eggs were the first PYSANKY.

      Another belief is from the colorful Hutzuls from Western Ukraine. They believe that the fate of the world depends on PYSANKY. As long as egg-decorating continues, the world will exist. Should the custom cease, evil…in the guise of a monster chained to a huge cliff, will encompass the world and destroy it. Each year the monster’s servants encircle the globe, keeping record of the number of PYSANKY made. When there are few, the monster’s chains loosen, and evil flows through the world. When there are many, the chains hold taut, allowing love to conquer evil. Also from the Hutzuls comes a story of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They say that the first PYSANKY were decorated by the tears of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was taking eggs to Pontius Pilate as a ransom for her son. Climbing the stairs, she tripped, and the pysanky scattered all over the world.

      Both PYSANKY and KRASHANKY are believed to have supernatural powers. KRASHANKA are hard-boiled eggs dyed a solid color that are eaten for Easter breakfast after being blessed along with other foods for the Easter meal. KRASHANKA comes from the Ukrainian word “kraska” meaning color. The shells of the KRASHANKY are placed in thatched roofs to turn away high winds and fires, also under the beehives to insure a good supply of honey and in the fields to protect and enhance the crops.

      PYSANKY, the richly decorated raw eggs, are never eaten. They are kept in the home from year to year as decorations and as protection from evil, fire and lightning. Friends exchange pysanky that have been blessed on Easter morning to commemorate Christ’s teachings of peace and love.

      The word PYSANKA comes from the Ukrainian word “pysaty” which means to write. PYSANKY are decorated by a complicated dye process similar to Batik. Melted beeswax is applied with a stylus, which is called a “kistka” or “pysaltse” to a fresh egg, raw, and clear of blemishes. The egg is dipped into a succession of dye baths, starting from the lightest, usually yellow, and ending with the darkest, typically black. Between each dipping, wax is applied over areas where the preceding color is to remain. After all the designing is complete, the wax is melted off and a hard glaze is applied. Bees wax is used because it stays liquid longer than paraffin, is more pliable, and has an adhering quality; and, of course bee-keeping was very common, so a large natural supply was on hand.

      Although no two PYSANKY are exactly alike, there are certain designs and methods of arranging them. Individuality is achieved by varying combinations of designs and colors. The designs or motifs may be divided into three categories: geometric, plant and animal. Motifs of all three categories are usually combined in one design.

      The geometric motifs are the same as found in many forms of primitive art, but their use in PYSANKY gives them specific names and symbolic meanings. Ribbons and belts that encircle the egg with no beginning or end symbolize eternity. Triangles symbolize trios, such as the circle of life of birth, life, death; the Holy Trinity, and the natural elements of fire, air, and water. Stars once symbolized the pagan gods, and now stand for life, growth and good fortune. The cross appears in many forms and symbolizes the four corners of the world, and Christianity.

      The plant motifs are stylized flowers, leaves, and branches; and they symbolize love, charity, good-will, strength, virility, health and a bountiful harvest. Pine trees symbolize eternal youth, strength and health.

      Of the three types, animal motifs are the most difficult to draw. They appear, then, less frequently than either the geometric or plant motifs. Reindeer and horses are placed in open spaces in the design, and symbolize wealth and prosperity. Birds are mostly depicted at rest. Hens, which symbolize fertility and the fulfillment of wishes, are often placed on branches. All drawings of insects are called butterflies, and are the symbol of the Resurrection.

      Design motifs and colors can be traced to different areas in Ukraine, most which have been modernized due to the natural evolution of the art. Traditional pysanka designs from centuries past have been almost lost, but the technique lives on. The designs we now create, calling Traditional, are actually “diasporian” and not truly historical designs. The ancient-looking brown and black designs, called TRYPILLIAN, are really a very new creation, but emanate basic natural symbolism.

      The eggs, covered with symbols, are dyed in warm colors dominated by red, the life-giving substance blood, stands for love and happiness. Other colors are yellow, the color of ripe crops, honey, amber, gold represents the moon and wished for a good harvest. Green symbolizes the growth power of plants. Brown and black, the Mother Earth. White symbolizes purity.

      We now buy are colors or dyes that are chemically produced, but historically dyes were made from dried plants, roots, berries and bark; such as:

          YELLOW – onion skins, apple tree bark, or mistletoe leaves
          ORANGE – infusion of crocuses
          GREEN – sprouting rye, wheat or moss
          RED – brazil wood, beets, logwood
          VIOLET – sunflower seeds, elderberry fruit and bark
          BLACK – old walnuts, oak bark or ashes

      The tradition of the Ukrainian Easter Egg has been passed down from mother to daughter to many, many generations; and today, our heritage provides the world with Easter Eggs that are truly works of art.