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Ukrainian Easter eggs an ancient art form

By Frank Flegel

03/09/2016

REGINA — Ukrainian Easter eggs — pysanka — are not just colourful works of art; they are full of Christian symbolism.

“These designs are symbols of Christ’s resurrection and eternal life,” said Eleanor Bernakevitch of St. Athanasius Parish, who was hosting an Easter egg workshop March 5. She gave the PM a description of the designs, their meaning and the tools required to “write” on the egg.

It’s an ancient tradition, said Bernakevitch, that has been going on since about AD 500 The tradition evolved from a pagan tradition that paid tribute to the natural world. The meaning of the designs was changed over time to align with Christian beliefs.

One does not “colour” Easter eggs; the designs are written on the egg using beeswax and dyes. Pysanka means to write, explained Bernakevitch.

Before dyes were available, colours came from nature. “Yellow came from an onion peel,” said Bernakevitch, “orange came from cheese, red from beet juice, green from spinach leaves and black from tree bark.”

The colours are applied in sequence: the design is written on a raw white egg, usually with a pencil, and a special stylus applies melted beeswax to the design. The egg is then dipped in the first colour, which is usually yellow, and the process continues through the remaining colours, ending in black.

“The egg will be all black,” said Sonia Pillipow, one of the teachers instructing the group. “You take a candle and a piece of paper and take off all the wax and there is your pattern.”

The colours permeate the shell and become permanent, said Pillopow. The raw egg eventually dries out and the shell is empty.

Why not a boiled egg? “Tradition,” said Pillipow.

The stylus itself is unique. A chicken bone was used by the ancients, but now a thin round piece of wood with a small opening near the end holds the wax. It is held momentarily to a candle flame, which melts the wax, which runs to the attached stylus.

About 35 participants of all ages took part in the workshop. Some wanted to preserve an ancient tradition, others wanted their children to experience what they experienced as a child, and still others just wanted to do the art.

Amanda Glowa-Cancino said she wanted her children to have the same enjoyable experiences she had as a child. “I remember doing them with my baba and my mom and it brings back special memories for me, so I just want my kids to be able to experience part of the culture that I look back at fondly.”

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