The Liturgical Home: Learning Pysanky Eggs From Ukrainian Refugees

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I’d always loved seeing photos of Ukrainian Pysanky eggs. Now, through Ukrainian refugees who found a home at our church, I’ve learned how to make them! In this article I share my story, the history of Pysanky, and a recipe so you can make them too.

Ukrainian Refugees and Pysanky Eggs

One Sunday I showed up at our church and was introduced to four young Ukrainians who had fled their homeland and been fostered by a precious couple at our church. The couple provided housing, one of their cars, and employment. Because of this couple’s acts of love and compassion, the people in our church were moved, and rallied to show God’s love to a growing group of refugees. They provided a warm welcome, small jobs, and gave all manner of things, and now our small church has sponsored ten beautiful souls from the Ukraine!

Sponsored

I know that we have blessed them by extending the feast to them BUT with how the kingdom of God always works, we have been given so much more in return! As Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

After church one day as I was talking to the group, I told them how much I love the Pysanky eggs I had seen in Ukraine and how I had always wanted to learn how to make them. One of the young men, Volodymyr, said matter-of-factly that he had been part of a Pysanky club at his school when he was a little boy. He told me that he would be happy to show me how to make them. You cannot imagine my surprise and excitement!

We ended up having a large group over to our house; kids, my extended family, and the whole Ukrainian group. Volodymyr was the best teacher. He was so patient with all of us and gave the best instructions. He was also very skilled at drawing, the wax resist, and dyeing. We all gathered around as he taught us. We focused hard on our drawings and applications of wax and we laughed a lot. Probably too much since Pysanky is supposed to be a form of quiet meditation!

Something incredible happens when you extend the feast to others, you receive unexpected blessings and connections. As a resurrection people, it is not enough to simply celebrate the season in our own homes but to share the joy and abundance with those around us. This act of extending the feast can start with one small act of generosity and expand into a floodgate of goodness, as seen in the story of the Ukrainian group sponsored by our church. By opening our hearts and homes to others, we not only bless them but are blessed in return with new relationships, experiences, and lessons.

The History of Pysanky Eggs

I’ve previously written about the significance of eggs during Easter, but Psanky takes Easter Eggs to the next level, as beautiful works of art. A traditional Slavic craft that dates back to the 10th century, Pysanky eggs are now made in many areas with Slavic origins like Poland and Croatia, and have been made especially famous from the Ukraine.

Pysanky eggs are considered an early form of writing for the Slavic peoples. The word Pysanka which is the singular of Pysanky comes from the Ukrainian word Pysaty which means “to write.” Each symbol and color has a meaning and is meant to be a message to the loved one that receives the egg. When given a Pysanky egg, the recipient was able to “read” the egg and its meaning. It was almost like a greeting card with messages of “Get Well” or “Wishing You Were Here.”

The wax-resist method used to decorate Pysanky eggs involves special tools and drawing designs on the egg with melted wax, which then acts as a resist against dyes. The egg is then dipped in a series of dyes, with the most intricate and detailed designs requiring multiple dips and layers of wax.

Traditionally, Pysanky eggs and the process of making them held deep spiritual significance. The practice was seen as a form of meditative prayer. In making Pysanky eggs, the withdrawal from the day-to-day world was emphasized. It was a way to connect with God on a deeper level and to pray over the recipient of the eggs.

Originally, the eggs were gathered during the last weeks of Lent and were decorated by the women of the household after the children went to bed. The eggs would take hours to make and were given as gifts or used to decorate the home. Every symbol and every color chosen for the eggs had meaning. Once the eggs were done, they were placed in Easter baskets, taken to church to be blessed by the priest, and then given to loved ones or brought home to be used as decorations.

The making of Pysanky eggs was a beautiful tradition passed from generation to generation until the Communists took power. Joseph Stalin, the head of the Communist Party, wanted to eliminate all religion, so he banned Pysanky eggs and any other symbol or practice of the Christian faith. If the Ukrainians were caught making Pysanky, they could be prosecuted or even killed.

Despite the threat to their lives, many Ukrainian people secretly made Pysanky eggs in their homes. They made them at night and they hid in their closets to keep this important practice of their faith alive and to pass it down to the next generation. After Ukraine gained independence in 1991, the tradition of Pysanky egg decorating experienced a resurgence and is now celebrated and cherished as an important cultural tradition.

Making Pysanky Eggs

Whether you are an experienced artist or a beginner, a child or an adult, you will absolutely love the process of making these eggs! It involves focused concentration and a deliberate, intentional approach to each step of the process. Every step requires your full attention and is one of those activities that you get lost in and forget the world around you. It’s a powerful way to quiet our minds and focus on God’s presence in our lives. It is also a way to connect with God on a deeper level, giving thanks, and praying over those who will receive the eggs. 

I have really enjoyed sitting down in a quiet place when homeschooling is over for the day and working on an egg. It really is a beautiful way to meditate and be in the presence of God. The act of creating something beautiful with our hands is an incredible form of worship and an expression of our gratitude for the gifts that God has given us.

If you would like to try making a beginner’s Pysanky egg, here is everything you will need. Note: This is for a beginner Pysanky egg. You will choose one color of dye and the result will be an colored egg with a white design.

Pysanky Egg Kit  (Good news, they are on sale right now! This kit comes with everything you need: a brass kistka, five batik dyes, a small candle, a cake of beeswax, cleaning wire, and instructions)

White Vinegar

Room-temperature, unboiled, white eggs

Paper towels

To make the eggs: Lightly draw a design on your egg with a pencil. Fill your kistka with beeswax, place the cup of the kistka over the flame of a candle and move back and forth until the wax is melted. Apply wax to your pencil lines by dragging the tip of the kistka along the lines. Warm the kistka over the candle flame every 3 to 4 seconds to keep the wax melted. Continue to refill you kistka, warm the wax and trace the pencil lines until all of the lines are covered in wax.

Pour the powdered dyes into individual cups and add 1 cup of water and 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar. Add a decorated egg to the dye of your choice. Let sit in the dye until you are happy with the color of the egg. Dry the egg on a paper towel.

To melt the wax: move the side of your decorated egg next to the flame of a candle. When the max melts, rub the egg against a paper towel. Repeat until all of the wax has been removed. 

Happy Easter!

Photo by Tom Mossholder on Unsplash.

Published on

May 12, 2023

Author

Ashley Tumlin Wallace

Ashley Tumlin Wallace, the author of the Liturgical Home series of books and articles at Anglican Compass, is a homeschooling mom of four and the wife of an Anglican priest. She and her family live in the panhandle of Florida.

View more from Ashley Tumlin Wallace

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