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Pysanka (Ukrainian Easter Egg)


The Easter egg or pysanka has evolved from an ancient tradition that dates back millennia, literally four thousand years. Pysanky are magic. The egg itself is magic in that it resembles an inert object, and yet contains the potential for a new life, or food for those already living. When they become pysanky, eggs are made more magic still in that they are dyed. This is done using a technique similar to batik: colors are protected with beeswax from subsequent dyes, rather than painted on. As an egg is worked, color after color disappears under the dark wax, to be magically revealed at the end when the wax is removed.

Eggs are associated with springtime because the rooster is considered the herald of the sun and because egg production increases in springtime. Thus, decorated eggs were believed to help the cycle of the seasons and to bring on spring and the new growth of animals and crops. The egg's potential to bring fertility was enhanced by the symbols drawn in wax on the egg: ears of wheat, grapes, rakes, cross-hatching symbolizing the plowed field, pictures of chicks, rams and other farm animals, and, of course, pictures of the sun. Decorated eggs were buried in fields to transfer their fecundity to the earth and in houses to protect the home. Archeological excavations of these buried eggs tell us how ancient pysanky are.

When Christianity came to Ukraine, pysanky acquired a Christian meaning. They became Easter eggs. Old symbols were reinterpreted in the Christian context. Thus, representations of the sun, the four-spoked solar wheel, for example, came to represent the cross. New symbols were added and pictures of churches were drawn on eggs, as were the first letters of the words "Christ is risen."

Soviet authorities did not look kindly on pysanky because they were associated with Christianity and were considered a symbol of Ukrainian identity. Pysanka collections in museums were hidden and any pysanka making in the home, if it was done, was done in secret. The tradition of pysanka making was maintained in the west. With the birth of an independent Ukraine, pysanky have returned to their homeland and the tradition of making these colorful eggs is now freely practiced.