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Pysanka, the Decorative Ukrainian Easter Egg

Updated on April 8, 2014
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Eggs displayed

Sometime back in younger days of growing up in Northeast Minneapolis I became familiar with the fact that Ukrain ian’s have rather special decorated Easter eggs . That area of town has both St. Constantine’s Ukrain ian Catholic Church and St. George Orthodox Church. The eggs used to be displayed for sale in a store window near where I used to catch the streetcar ( the bus later on)after school.

The egg s are called pysanka and are decorated using a wax-resistant method. The designs are written on the egg s with beeswax. The word Pysanka comes from the verb “pysaty” meaning to write.

Ukranian Easter egg
Ukranian Easter egg | Source
Tradtional pysanky
Tradtional pysanky | Source
collection of traditional and modern stylluses used for decorating eggs
collection of traditional and modern stylluses used for decorating eggs | Source

Symbolism


Pysanky has a number of various geometric designs, which represents a variety of things. Color is also symbolic and can vary from one region to another.

It does not apply to all wax resist methods as is sometimes thought. However Pysanka specifically refers to eggs created by the written-wax method and utilizing traditional folk-motifs and designs. In addition to these there are several other types of decorated eggs in the Ukrainian tradition and they vary in the different regions of the Ukraine.

·        Krashanky are boiled eggs dyed one color with vegetable dye and blessed at Easter.

·        Krapanky are raw eggs decorated using wax-resistant method. Have only dots as ornamentation. Traditionally they are made by dripping wax from a beeswax candle.

·        Dryapanky are made by scratching the surface of a dyed egg to show the white shell under the dye.

·        Malyovanky is a design  painted with a brush using either oil or watercolor paints. Sometimes it refers to using a marker on an egg.

·        Nakelyensky means to glue on. Objects are glued to the egg surface.

·        Travlensky is not a traditional Ukraine method but has become popular. Eggs are waxed and then etched.

·        Buserky are created by coating the egg with beeswax and creating a geometric design after coating it with beeswax.

·        Lystovky are created dyeing the egg after small leaves have been attached.

 

Most of these are decorative, except for the Krashanky and Lystovky, not edible. The yolk and white of the egg are allowed to dry up or are removed by blowing them out through a small hole in the egg.

Legends, superstition and folk beliefs

 

  • The Ukrainians living in the Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine known as the Hutsel believe the fate of the world depends on the pysanka. The world will exist as long as the egg decorating custom does. If the custom is ever abandoned a horrible serpent who is forever chained to a cliff will overrun the world. The serpent is “evil.” Each year the evil serpent sends out minions to check on how many pysanka have been created. If it is a low number the serpents chains are loosened and he can wander the world creating havoc and destruction. If the number is increased his chains are tightened and good wins for another year.
  • Some newer legends blend Christianity with folklore and consider the egg as part of the Easter celebration. According to one legend the Virgin Mary gave eggs to soldiers at the cross. She asked them to be less cruel to her so and wept. Her tears fell on the eggs and they were spotted with brilliantly colored dots.
  • Mary Magdalene, according to another legend went to the sepulcher to anoint Jesus. She had a basket of eggs to share with the others that were there. When she uncovered the eggs they had taken on the colors of the rainbow.
  • Simon the peddler, the Simon that helped Jesus carry his cross, had left his goods at the side of the road and when he got back the eggs had all turned to intricately decorated pysanky.

 

A few superstitions

 

Pysanky were thought to protect households from evil spirits, catastrophe as well as lightning and fire. Spiral motifs were the most powerful. If the pysanky were blessed it could help find demons hiding in dark corners of the house.

Since you wouldn’t want a witch to latch on to its powerful magic  you must dispose of it properly.

Skin disease could be cured using the cloth used to dry the pysanky.

Archeology and history

 

Since eggshells do not preserve very well there are no examples of pysanka from prehistory. There are ceramic eggs discovered from about the 5th to 3rd millennium.

The oldest pysanka was found in Baturyn in 2008 and came from the end of the 17th century. It is complete but crushed.

Ukrainians worshipped Dazhboh, the sun god, and the sun warmed the earth and was the source of life.  Eggs decorated with nature symbols were part of spring rituals.  Dazhboh was the main deity in pre Christian time. Birds were the sun gods chosen creations and the only ones who could get near him. Humans could not catch the birds but could get the eggs that they laid. The eggs were a source of life and they were a part of spring festivals as representing the rebirth of life.

When Christianity was established the egg represented the rebirth of man rather than the rebirth of nature. Christians likened the egg to the tomb of Christ.

While the custom of the pysanka was being banned in the soviet regime immigrants to the Americas established the custom in their new home. In 1991 Ukraine gained independence and the custom has been reestablished. 

Comments

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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi moonlake, I probably wouldn't want the raw eggs either. I imagine the people who grow up with these traditions have no problems with it. Thank you for commenting.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 

      5 years ago from America

      Enjoyed your hub very interesting. The eggs are so pretty but I don't know if I would want a raw decorated egg around the house. Voted up.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I appreciate your visiting and commenting.

    • MarilynMorrison profile image

      MarilynMorrison 

      7 years ago

      Very informative hub.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I don't think I would have either if I hadn't grown up near the ethnic people who had the custom. Thanks for commenting.

    • nannasplace profile image

      nannasplace 

      7 years ago from united states

      Never heard of these before, very interesting, thanks.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I appreciate your commenting.Oddly these eggs were sort of part of the neighborhood environment I grew up in but I never paid much attention to them. There is so much around us that we don't see, at least I don't.

    • Painter Penfield profile image

      Painter Penfield 

      7 years ago from Tampa Bay area Florida

      Such a lovely hub. Thank you for sharing the history of Pysanky. I was reminded of a favorite customer in my past that always brought me the most beautifully decorated eggs. Often black with red and white and gold. Now, years later, I can understand the tradition and history of their beauty.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Peggy W

      Who knows, maybe there will be. It was during the communist tyranny that I was first aware of these eggs near my neighborhood. I wish I had been more appreciative of thevariety customs of in our part of Minneapolis.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What an interesting bunch of superstitions and also traditions regarding the decoration of Easter eggs making for beautiful objects in the end.

      I found this particularly interesting: " Each year the evil serpent sends out minions to check on how many pysanka have been created. If it is a low number the serpents chains are loosened and he can wander the world creating havoc and destruction."

      If people still believed that, given what just happened in Japan, there would be a surge of egg decorating to ward off future tragedies.

      Very interesting hub! Voted up and useful.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I found it interesting that while under the soviets that they could not decorate the eggs but the imigrants here carried it on. Thanks for commenting.

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      dahoglund, thanks for explaining those Ukranian egg traditions...as I came across the pysanka and had wondered about the meaning.

      "The world will exist as long as the egg decorating custom does"

      Now that's taking it seriously.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Just Ask Susan thank you. I appreciate your visit and comment.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Nice hub dahoglund.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. Different customs are interesting.

    • Becky Puetz profile image

      Becky 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      An interesting Hub, I love to learn how others celebrate holidays. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and awesome.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Genna East

      Thank you for visiting and reading it.

      Truckstop Sally

      They are attractive. thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 

      7 years ago

      Beautiful eggs! Thanks for the info!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Another interesting and very timely hub about Easter egss; thank you!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Les Trois Chenes

      Since there are probably many traditions of coloring eggs maybe your students would have some ideas on the subject. Thanks for commenting.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      creativeone

      I appreciate your kind comments. I grew up around the people who had these traditions and did not appreciate them at the time.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      billyaustindillon

      thanks for the comment. I am glad if I was able to tell about these traditions which are not my own in a respectful way.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile image

      Les Trois Chenes 

      7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      This is fascinating. I wonder if I can persuade my Thursday afternoon painting students to paint eggs? Many thanks.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 

      7 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you dahoglund for such a beautiful and awesome hub on easter eggs. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story. Godspeed. creativeone59

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 

      7 years ago

      Enjoyed the story - am familiar with much of the Ukrainian history and you do the story of such a sacred and family passion nicely. Many of the Orthodox egg traditions at Easter are truly beautiful.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks Will for reading the hub and commenting.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 

      7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Packed with information.

      Good Hub

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