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-- or neither.

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 eggs.

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 marriage.

 

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