The spring season, and the Easter holiday that comes with it, is filled with rebirth and new beginnings, symbolized by bright colors, newborns of all species, and rich foods in anticipation of new harvests. While the dead of winter can be unpleasant and somber, it is the perfect time for rest, reflection, and preparation for the upcoming burst of new life and new beginnings. The creation of Pysanky is one of the more creative and intricate ways to forget the winter blues and get ready for the celebration of spring.
Ginny Hildebrand has been creating Pysanky for about thirtyfi ve years and has been teaching the seven week class at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church for the last ten. She welcomes beginners and experts alike, young and old, men and women. The only skill necessary is a fairly steady hand.
According to Ginny, the tradition of the Pysanky originates from several Slavic tribes of Eastern Europe that resided within the modern political boundaries of Ukraine, Poland and Hungary, along the Carpathian mountains. Because of this affiliation, many ethnicities of Eastern Europe claim the originally Pagan tradition of Pysanky as their own.
Pysanky was originally a way to celebrate the rite of Spring, by which the egg was used as a symbol of life and rebirth. Women believed the time and effort they put into the creations would be rewarded over the course of the next year, and would create enough of the eggs to distribute throughout the year during the winter, when there were no harvests to prepare. They used plant and animal skins, along with berries and bark to create the dye and decorate them with symbols of good fortune and fertility, keeping them secret until spring celebrations, when the eggs would be placed on foundations of new houses, given to newly wedded couples, put in feed boxes for livestock or given to a potential suitor. The arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century CE and the subsequent Christianizing of the Slavic peoples added new symbols related to Christianity, such as the cross and roses, and old symbols took on a more Christian meaning.
When one begins their egg, chosen symbols are typically done in equal geometric sections. Even through one is not held to traditional Easter symbols, there are many to choose from. Baskets of seeds or nuts symbolizes plenty or blessings from heaven. Bands around the egg can be made of triangles to represent the Holy Trinity. Ribbons represent the ever present God, with no beginning and no end. Horses represent power, chickens fertility, and water circles the tears that Mary shed for her son.
“The challenge is to draw a two dimensional design on a 3 dimensional object and have it look realistic,” says Ginny, who provides step by step guidance for first timers, and color consultation for veteran Pysanky makers. “People are usually not too thrilled with their first egg but it is the one they learn on and everyone gets better with practice –people are usually much more pleased with their second one.”
The procedure may seem confusing at first, but it makes perfect sense once you get the hang of it. First, the sketch is made on the clean egg and anything that the creator wants to remain white is covered in wax with a tool called a Kistka. This is usually the outlines of the designs. Once the white is “protected” by the wax, the egg is placed in the lightest dye –typically yellow. When the egg is dry, the next layer of wax is applied to all the areas the creator wishes to remain yellow. The same procedure is then repeated with orange dye,
See Tradition page 4