The History of Pysanky
The word pysanky comes from an ancient
Ukrainian word meaning "to write." The Ukrainian art
of decorating Easter eggs (pysanky) has been around since before
Christ. The earliest eggs were decorated with symbols to bring
health, abundance and fertility to the family, their livestock
and crops. With the widespread acceptance of Christianity in late
900 A.D., the pagan designs took on a religious significance.
Modern pysanky can incorporate either religious or secular symbolism--
Ukrainian women would work on their pysanky
after all the chores were done and the children were put to bed.
They would ask for God's blessing as they began to decorate their
These eggs are traditionally made by women
and given to family and friends at Easter but also on birthdays
and anniversaries and at weddings. Several were given to the parish
priest, and single women gave them to fellows they fancied as
tokens of their affections. I have read that on her wedding day,
a bride would hold a pysanky in the fold of her dress, and upon
entering her new home, would drop the egg and say, "May I
bear children as easily as I drop this egg." Tradition dictates
that a broken pysanky is never thrown out like trash-- it should
be buried with reverence in a field or beneath a dwelling, to
bring prosperity to the animals or people dwelling inside.
There is an ancient myth that an evil creature
is held in check by the goodness represented by the pysanky:
each egg is another link in the chains binding the creature.
The more pysanky made, the tighter the evil is bound. So,
we should all make more pysanky!
My grandmother used to tell me that
all the ladies in the parish (Russian Orthodox Catholic) would
prepare baskets of food to be blessed by the priests on Holy
Saturday (the day before Easter), as they were only supposed
to eat blessed food on Easter Sunday. The women would try
to out-do each other by filling their baskets with the best
baked bread, molded sweet butter, sausages, hams and colorful
pysanky, all covered by intricately embroidered cloths. The
bachelors of the parish would stroll by the long tables of
baskets to see what sort of homemakers were available for