The Ukrainian Easter Egg
The art of the decorated egg, or the "pysanka" (from the Ukrainian verb "pysaty"
or "to write") dates back to pagan times. Folk tales reveal that the people who
lived in the region now known as Ukraine worshipped the sun. It warmed the earth
and therefore was a source of all life. Eggs decorated with symbols of nature
were chosen for sun worship ceremonies and became an integral part of spring
rituals, serving as benevolent talismans.
With the acceptance of Christianity in 988, the decorated pysanka (plural - pysanky)
continued to play an important role in Ukrainian rituals of the newly adopted religion.
Many symbols of the old sun worship survived and were adapted to represent Easter and
A pagan legend maintains that the sun god was the most important of all Ukrainian
deities; birds were the god's chosen Creations for they were the only ones who
could get close to him. Humans could not catch the birds, but they did manage
to obtain the eggs laid by the birds. These eggs were magical objects, a source
The Hutsuls - Ukrainians who live in the Carpathian mountains of Western Ukraine -
believe that the fate of the world depends upon the pysanka. As long as the egg
decorating custom continues, the world will exist. If for any reason this custom
is abandoned, evil - in the form of a horrible monster who is forever chained to
a mountain cliff - will overrun the world. Each year this monster-serpent sends
out his henchmen to see how many pysanky have been created. If the number is low,
the serpent's chains are loosened and he is free to wander the earth causing havoc
and destruction. If, on the other hand, the number of pysanky has increased, the
chains are tightened and good triumphs over evil for yet another year.
Throughout the centuries, various symbols on the pysanky took on different meanings.
Symbols found on the pysanka, which is created using a batik (wax-dye) method, include
wheat or pine branches, which signify health; bowers and birds which stand for
happiness and spring; the triangle, which in pagan times meant air, fire and water
or birth, means death, in Christian times took on the meaning of the Holy Trinity.
Hens and chickens symbolize fertility, roosters are identified with masculinity
and strength, as are oak leaves. Deer are strength and prosperity; fish are
symbols of prosperity as well but also of Christianity and infinite lines
It has been said that older people should receive pysanky with darker colors
and/or rich designs for their life has already been filled with experiences.
It is appropriate to give young people pysanky with white as a predominant
color because their life is still like a blank page.
Girls should never give their boyfriends pysanky that have no design on the top
and bottom of the egg - the baldness on either end signifies that the boyfriend
will soon loose his hair.