Friday, May 28, 2010


Okay, this post is a little late, but better late than never.

The "girls" in my family traditionally get together on Good Friday to decorate Ukrainian Easter eggs, aka pysanky.  This is supposed to be done before Good Friday, but it is the one day that we are all free from school and work; and those of us with small children have easy access to childcare (aka daddies!).  I also justify our date choice by pointing out that "English" Good Friday is almost always before Ukrainian Good Friday, thanks to the Julian calendar ;-)

This year, the "girls" included myself, my sister Corrine, and Corrine's adult daughters - Marie, Michelle, and Marissa.  My Auntie Mary (my mom's sister) dropped in for a quick visit but did not do any eggs this year.

Pysanky have a long and rich tradition - every line, every symbol, every colour on the egg is meaningful. The eggs must be raw, and ideally from a henhouse with a rooster - the yolk symbolizes the rebirth of the sun and of Jesus, and so if there is no chance of life coming forth from the egg, its purpose is lost.  The decoration of pysanky predates the arrival of Christianity in Ukraine.  The original pagan symbols celebrating the rebirth of spring have been adapted to the story of the rebirth of Christ.

Designs are drawn on the raw eggs with a stylus, or kistka that is filled with melted beeswax.  The beeswax turns black as it melts, making it easy to see the designs.  The eggs are dipped in progressively darker colours; whatever you want kept white is drawn on before dipping the egg in yellow; whatever you want kept yellow is drawn on before dipping in orange, and so on through the colours.  Most traditional eggs are dipped in red, brown, or black as the final colour.

Once the egg has been completely dyed, the wax is melted off.  I've read that you can do this in an oven, but traditionally, you hold the egg over a candle flame.

Dyes and snacks at the ready:

Pysanka artists can draw intricate designs freehand.  The rest of us cheat.  Most egg designs have some kind of "division."  Sometimes, it's very simple, like dividing your egg in half, so that you can make the same design on both sides of the egg. Some times the division is much more intricate - dividing the egg first in half, and then each half into quarters, sixths, or eighths.  If you use elastic bands it helps you eye the divisions before you actually start writing on the egg with the kistka, and it also helps keep your lines straight.

Sometimes, elastics don't do the trick.  Sometimes, it's the nature of the design; sometimes the nature of the egg.  When elastics don't cut it, you can pencil in guidelines before using your kistka.  I personally don't like using pencil, because the marks stay on the egg.

Once you have your divisions - whether by elastic, pencilling, or freehand - you start using your kista to fill in the areas that you want to remain white.

After your white lines/areas are filled in, the egg goes into the lightest dye, most often yellow.


And then you use your kistka to fill in the areas that you want to keep yellow.


You dye your egg progressively darker colours.


This egg (and others we were working on) is ready to melt!  It was dyed black as its final colour.  Now, the black beeswax needs to be removed.


Melting ...

Melting another ....

Melting a really colourful one ...


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