Valentine's Day marked the beginning of Lent this year. That means 40 days (plus Sundays) til Easter and time to begin decorating eggs for the occasion. That is the Ukrainian tradition and one that has yielded the most beautiful and intricately patterned eggs for centuries.
I was lucky enough to have learned this ancient craft from my college roommate and Russian major, Sue. She learned from an elderly Ukrainian women who had attended her church at the time. Some decades later, I still carry on this art form and will be teaching a class on the "how to" and historical background at the Denver Botanic Gardens School of Botanical Art and Illustration this March.
Life has been busy the past few years with moving, building my Botangle business, teaching, and a full-time job. So I took a few-year hiatus from decorating eggs. Last weekend I dug out my dyes and Ball canning jars, kistkas, wax, candles, books, etc. and set up for what I consider a real artistic treat. How I have missed "writing" designs on my eggs, the smell of the beeswax, the clank of the spoons as I lower the eggs into their brilliant dye baths, and the final "reveal" when I remove the wax that I have so meticulously applied!
I make the "Pysanky" (the Ukrainian name for these eggs) with the batik or wax resist method; a technique that has been used to dye cloth for thousands of years. It allows the artist to create very intricate designs and build colorful patterns from light to dark by covering the designs in stages. The process can take many hours, but the results are magical. In our last move, I unfortunately broke some of my favorite delicate eggs. But alas! I will just make new ones. The special gift of this method is in the process.
Speaking of gifts, it's important to bestow your eggs on friends and family, keeping in mind what you create and for whom. As the patterns (rich in symbolism) are "written" on the eggs, special meaning and power is given them by the creator who may have said a prayer or mantra when decorating them. These good wishes are said to bring luck to the recipient, be it for happiness, wealth, fruitfulness, longevity, good harvest, health, lasting marriage, etc.
Though we know pysanky today as Easter eggs, the tradition goes back thousands of years and is rooted in paganism. In creating these bejeweled treasures, peasant women were influenced by the great power embodied in an egg. The tradition of making these eggs was seasonal; done in spring to celebrate the warming of the sun as it brought new vigor and life to the earth they so depended on for farming.
I am proud to be part of this age old tradition; be it Christian or pagan, and I am happy to pass on my knowledge of making pysanky.