Ukrainian American Society of Texas


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Pysanky from Surma - The Ukrainian Shop


The art of pysanky is so ancient that no one truly knows its origins. It is known that at least 2000 years ago primitive people who lived in the area of the Ukraine worshipped the sun. These pagan people saw parallels between the yellow yolk of the egg and the sun, the white of the egg and the moon. In those ancient times, the egg was believed to have magical power and often was used in sun worship ceremonies.

Our long-ago ancestors also knew that the egg could be the source of life. In rituals of the spring which celebrated both the return of the sun as the days grew longer and the rebirth of the earth as nature woke from the long winter, the raw, fertile egg gained significance as a symbol of life and hope.

When the nation of Ukraine accepted Christianity in 988 A.D., the egg was adopted as a religious symbol of the Easter celebration-both as the egg which was eaten to first break the fast of Lent and in the form of pysanky, decorated with designs of Christian significance. Written references from as early as the thirteenth century recorded the well-developed customs of pysanky and krashanky in the Ukraine. The pysanky now had new symbolism as a sign of new hope-hope that man could feel because of Christ’s Resurrection and His promise of Eternal Life.

The egg was compared to the tomb from which Christ arose and the old pagan symbols were given new Christian meanings-the old sun designs now stood for the Son of God, triangles stood for the Holy Trinity, stars showed God’s love toward man, dots represented Mary’s tears, and crosses represented Christ’s suffering for us. New symbols were added too-the fish which represented Christianity,forty-triangle designs which reminded us of the forty days of fasting by Christ and the forty days of Lent, the butterfly as a sign of the Resurrection, and designs of Ukrainian-style churches, our place of worship.

Through many years, the pagan beginnings have faded from our memories, and the new, glorious, Christian meanings attached to pysanky have given Ukrainians and others much joy.

Traditionally pysanky are left whole and the yolks and whites are not blown out; to do so would negate the symbolism of the eggs discussed earlier, as well as running the risk of ruining a pysanka after spending many hours of work on it. Even though pysanky are made with raw eggs, with care they will eventually dry up inside allowing them to last a long time and never smell. A few rules should be observed to make sure that your pysanky are not harmed.

(1) Always start with fresh eggs that have no thin spots or flaws (which might later crack) and with no hairline cracks. An egg is sterile inside when the shell is intact. Only when bacteria can enter through a crack will the egg start to rot and smell. The moisture from the inside of the egg, however, can escape through the porous shell as long as it is treated properly.

(2) When eggs are still liquid inside after decorating, store and display them properly and carefully to avoid accidentally cracking or “explosions” of the inside contents. Eggs should not be allowed to hit each other if displayed in a container; this might cause tiny cracks which will allow spoilage. They should never be placed or stored where they will get too hot (as in the sunlight) or too cold (where they would freeze), both which will cause expansion and cracking or exploding. Pysanky should always be stored where there is adequate air circulation; air is needed for the insides to dry out. DO NOT store eggs in styrofoam egg cartons (cardboard ones can breathe), or in close places such as decorative glass jars or containers which are sealed or covered or in a tightly closing china cabinet. These places can store up heat and cause your eggs to expand, crack or explode.

When eggs are still drying, they should be turned occasionally so the yolk will not stick to one side. This does not affect the drying, but if not done you may have eggs which want to roll to one side-usually not the way you want-a problem when you wish to display the eggs in a basket or dish.

Although it delays the finishing of the pysanky, some people do not give the eggs the final gloss coat of varnish or nail polish until the insides have dried up. This can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more, depending on the atmosphere and storage conditions of where you live. When the egg feels light or the yolk can be felt rattling inside the egg, the gloss coat is then applied.

(3) Even when the eggs appear to have dried out completely and the gloss coat has been given, continue to store pysanky in a well ventilated, cool (not cold), dry place. Moisture can still seep back through the pores of the eggs and sunlight can fade colors-both which could ruin the appearance of your pysanky.


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