The decorated eggs of Ukraine.

Easter is coming and those who celebrate may get nostalgic as egg-themed decorations go up. Dyeing Easter eggs is a popular tradition, and methods of decorating eggs can be found in many cultures, dating thousands of years back and passed down the generations.

Pysanka is the name for a particular kind of decorated egg tied to Ukrainian culture and has often been passed from mothers to their daughters. The practice decreased under Soviet Rule, but Sofika Zielyk, ethnographer and pysanka artist, says that “Ever since Ukraine regained independence, there has been a rebirth of this tradition in Ukraine.”

Pysanka refers to a single egg; pysanky is the plural form. This name comes from the Ukrainian word “pysaty” which translates as “to write”. The word appears as “писати” in the Ukrainian alphabet, which is a variant of Cyrillic.

Pysanky eggs are made with a wax-resist method. This involves using wax to draw complex on the egg prior to dip-dyeing. This process is repeated multiple times, layering patterns and colors into a beautiful final product.

Photo by Tim Mossholder

Pysanky symbology

Egg decorating traditions of the Slavic world have many potential origins pre-Christianity. Pagan beliefs regarding eggs and their protective powers against evil may influence this tradition. The yellow yolk of the egg may have also been connected to pagan celebrations of the return of the sun.

One legend tells of a monster in the Carpathian mountains. The chains that held the monster and kept the Ukrainian people safe held tighter the more they made pysanky.

Later, when Christian belief among the people grew, this cultural practice united with the resurrection of Jesus through the common association with spring and renewal. Design motifs are connected to this introduction of Christianity, such as triangles, symbols of the Holy Trinity. Designs can differ in different areas, with Western Ukraine adding chicks and deer to their designs representing fertility and strength.

Photo by Tim Mossholder

These eggs are a central part of Easter celebrations, perhaps the most important of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Families create these eggs together on Holy Thursday, the Thursday before Good Friday and Easter Sunday. These eggs are gifted to friends and family to invoke blessings.

Understanding of these eggs as symbols of luck and fertility appear in other modern traditions. These include placing eggshells in gardens for better results and placing eggs in the corners of a home for luck.

This tradition holds a special place in Ukrainian culture. The designs are intricate and vibrant, joyful reminders of a long history. Those who design them display talent and patience as they maintain this art.

Wolcott Public Library had artist Sharon Leonard on Thursday, March 16th, 2023 to share this art with our patrons. If you want to see more opportunities like this, check our event calendar for all upcoming programming. Follow us on social media and sign-up for the newsletter to always know what’s going on at the library!

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