The Ukrainian Easter Egg

The art of the decorated egg, or the pysanka (from the Ukrainian verb pysaty, to write), dates back to pagan times, around 4000 B.C. Folk tales reveal that the people who lived in the region now known as Ukraine worshiped the sun. It warmed the earth and thus, was a source of all life. Eggs decorated with nature symbols were chosen for sun worship ceremonies and became an integral part of spring rituals, serving as benevolent talismans.

With the acceptance of Christianity in 988, the decorated pysanka (plural - pysanky) continued to play an important role in Ukrainian rituals of the new religion. Many symbols of the old sun worship survived and were adapted to represent Easter and Christ's Resurrection.

A pagan legend maintains that the sun god was the most important of all the deities; birds were the sun god's chosen creations for they were the only ones who could get near him. Humans could not catch the birds, but they did manage to obtain the eggs the birds laid Thus, the eggs were magical objects, a source of life.

The Hutsuls - Ukrainians who live in the Carpathian Mountains of Western Ukraine believe that the fate of the world depends upon the pysanka. As long as the egg decorating custom continues, the world will exist. If for any reason this custom is abandoned, evil in the shape of a horrible serpent who is forever chained to a cliff - will overrun the world Each year the serpent sends out his minions to see how many pysanky have been created If the number is low, the serpents' chains are loosened and he is free to wander the earth causing havoc and destruction. If on the other hand, the number of pysanky has increased, the chains are tightened and good triumphs over evil forget another year.

Throughout the centuries, various symbols on the pysanky took on different meanings. Symbols found on the pysanka, which is created using a batik (wax-dye) method, include wheat, which signifies health, flowers and birds, which stand for happiness and spring; the triangle, which in pagan times meant air, fire, water and in Christian times took on the meaning of the Holy Trinity. Hens and chickens symbolize fertility, roosters are identified with masculinity and strength, as are oak leaves. Deer are strength and prosperity; fish are also symbols of prosperity and Christianity, while infinite lines signify eternity.

It has been said that older people should receive pysanky with darker colors and/or rich designs, for their life has already been filled. It is appropriate to give young people pysanky with white as the predominant color because their life is still a blank page.

Girls should never give their boyfriends pysanky that have no design on the top and bottom on the egg- the baldness on either end signifies that the boyfriend will soon loose his hair.

 

More information can be found in Sofia's book.


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Bohdan Peter Rekshynskyj All Rights Reserved.