It is not clearly understood how pysanky egg art originated. It is believed that more than 2000 years ago, ancient civilizations that inhabited in the area that is now Ukraine worshipped the sun. The people of this pagan civilization viewed the yellow yolk of the egg as similar to the sun, and the white of the egg as similar to the moon. They may have viewed the egg as having magical powers and used it in ceremonies of sun worship.
The Egg as a Symbol of Life
Our ancestors also recognized that the egg is a symbol of life. In spring, they likely practiced rituals to celebrate the lengthening of the days and the return of the warmth of the sun. Similarly, they would have celebrated the re-birth of plants and greenery as nature awoke from the harsh winter. In addition, they would have witnessed birds nesting with their new eggs and attributed to the egg the symbolism of rebirth and hope.
The Egg as a Symbol of Easter
Centuries later, in 988 AD, Ukraine was baptized as a nation into the Christian religion by Vladimir the Great. At that time, the egg was adopted as a religious symbol of the celebration of Easter. Ukrainians ate eggs to break the fast that they had observed during the long 40 days of Lent. In addition, they decorated eggs with Christian symbols and colours.
Legends of Pysanky Egg Art
There are many folk tales about that show how important Ukrainians view their pysanky. Many of these stories are traditional Christian stories from the Bible that have been modified to incorporate Pysanky and explain the origins of this beautiful folk art. We will explore these many legends in a future blog post. Don’t forget to check back!
Beliefs about the Power of Pysanky
In modern times, Ukrainians may decorate pysanky throughout the year. However, in past centuries, it was tradition for the women of a Ukrainian village to prepare and decorate the pysanky during the last days of the Lenten period. It was considered to be a serious, solemn, and important task.
These decorated eggs were believed to bring blessing and protection to the people, animals, and dwellings where they were placed.
The women would decorate many different pysanky:
- For the priest, complete with many religious symbols
- For family members; children would receive eggs with colorful flowers
- For friends outside the family
- To exchange on Easter morning
- For young women to present to young men of the town. If a young woman wished to appear coy, she may present them to several young men. If she presented an egg with her pysanky egg art to just one young man, the villagers would expect an engagement soon!
- For the elders of the town, the pysanky egg art was decorated with dark colours symbolizing heaven
Pysanky would also be prepared for the graves of those who had died and for those who may pass away in the upcoming year. Eggs were also decorated to symbolize the many animals who helped sustain life in the Ukrainian village to pray for ongoing fertility and protect their health. Special pysanky were also made to ask for protection of people’s livelihood and property. They were buried or hung around the property as symbols of blessings.
Return here in the future as we discuss many things about pysanky—legends, symbolism, and how to decorate them.