Origin of Easter Eggs,
Meaning of Colors & Designs

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Ukrainian Easter Egg  Symbols And Legends
Western Easter is on April 16th, 2017
Orthodox  Easter is on April 16th, 2017

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               Pysanka comes from the word "to write" - to pysaty. Making Easter Eggs in Ukraine dates back to thousands of years. Many Slavic groups paint eggs with their own interpretations. The writing of of Easter eggs was suppressed by the Soviets in the past century and many beautifully decorated eggs were destroyed  in museums.     
            
The Hutsuls were not affected by this destruction of culture and have been able to maintain the tradition of making eggs; specializing in crafting and decorating real and wooden eggs. Throughout Ukraine the pysanka has enjoyed a resurgence as with other customs. Every region decorates Easter Eggs in their own distinctive style and meaning.

               Another form of the pysanky which is also very common at Easter time are the krashanky. It comes from the verb - krasyty - to color, to dye. The eggs are dyed a one single color. Years ago Ukrainians used various  varieties of plant material to color the eggs. A very popular method even now is to save onions skins for any months and then boil them in water. The eggs are dropped in later, boiled  and turn out various shades of brown.         

          From my research on material written in Ukraine starting from about 1885 and throughout the 20th century there seems to be a general consensus among scholars that symbols of Easter Eggs can be grouped into 6 main categories which are: 1) solar symbols, 2) bezkonechnyk - never ending lines, 3) plant symbols, 4) animal symbols, 5) geometric symbols and 6) Christian symbols.

        "When Christianity came to Ukraine, pysanky acquired a Christian meaning. They became Easter eggs. Old symbols were reinterpreted in the Christian context. Thus, representations of the sun, the four-spoked solar wheel, for example, came to represent the cross. New symbols were added and pictures of churches were drawn on eggs, as were the first letters of the words "Christ is risen."" Dr. Kononenko, an folklorist and ethnographer, has a website of her in-depth analysis and depiction of her research of pysanky in Central Ukraine. 

Meaning of Ukrainian Easter Egg Designs

Geometric Designs

 1.

Lines used for division; vertically or horizontally. Repeating pattern going all around the egg is called bezkonechnyk -  lines, belts or ribbons which encircle the egg with no beginning or ending - endless lines. Symbolize eternity or eternal life.

2.

Dots, circles. Can denote stars or the tears of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Circles growth, happiness, good fortune

3.

Nets, sieves. Hutsuls use this 
design a lot.

Christian symbol of the 
fisherman's net

4.

Stars, Suns

In modern Christian interpretations, the star represents God's love toward man; also means growth, good fortune and happiness.

5.

Circles with dots or X's relating to 
the sign of the sun.

Symbol of good fortune

6.

The cross many varieties

Reflects the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ

7.

Churches especially used by the Hutsuls

 

PLANT DESIGNS

1.

Spoons, leaves, barvinok (periwinkle)

Love

2.

Pine tree, pine boughs, branches

Represent to men health, stamina, and eternal youth

3.

Pussy willows

First green growth of spring; distributed in church on "Palm Sunday" 

4. Poppies related to the geometric design of circles with little spokes all around it Nature
5. Lilies and other flower motifs  
done in triangles and spirals
Symbolize love and charity

6.

Leaves

Love, strength

7.

Rose (flower) motifs

Represent beauty and wisdom

8.

Apples, grapes, other fruit or vegetables

Symbolize health and wisdom

9.

Wheat from the breadbasket of Europe

Wishes for a bountiful harvest, good health

ANIMAL DESIGNS - MOTIFS

1.

Spiders, spider webs small spirals or hooks

Symbolize patience, and is considered as good luck

2.

Stags, rams

Leadership, strength

3.

Deer, horses

Wealth, prosperity

4.

Fish

Sacrifice, resurrection

5.

Birds

Joy, wishes fulfilled

                 Symbols and Meanings of Colors of Ukrainian  Easter Eggs

The colors used in pysanka design are steeped in symbolism. Each region of Ukraine uses characteristic color combinations in its designs.  The most ancient pysanky were composed of only one or two colors.  The most magical ancient pysanky were considered to be those having 4 or 5 colors, each carrying a message of good will for the recipient such as happy family life, peace, love, good health or success.

1.

White

 Purity, virginity, innocence and birth

2.

Yellow

  Symbol of light and purity. Speaks of youth, happiness, recognitions, wisdom or harvest/reward

3.

Orange

Strength, endurance and ambition. Orange is the color of fire and flame. Represents red of passion tempered by the yellow of wisdom. It is the symbol of the golden, everlasting sun.

4.

Red

Favorite color - hope, happiness, love; is considered a positive color signifying action, fire, charity, spiritual awakening; glorifies the sun. Denotes the divine love and passion of Christ.

5.

Green

As seen  in spring renewals, green symbolizes the breaking of shackles, freedom from bondage. It is the color of fertility, freshness, health and hopefulness.In the Christian context, it represents bountifulness, hope and the victory of life over death. It is the color of Christmas, Easter and Epiphany.

6.

Blue

Wishes for good health, blue skies or the life-giving air.

7.

Purple

Faith and trust

8.

Brown

Happiness, symbolic of the mother earth, bringing
 forth her bountiful gifts.

9.

Black

Remembrance 

 Some Legends on the Origin of Pysanky- the Ukrainian Easter Egg 

     Many folk tales have been told about the origins of Ukrainian Easter Eggs. These stories may vary 
somewhat from one to another, but all show the importance Ukrainians placed on their pysanky. 
 For all our readers and on-line shoppers I would like to write about some of the legends which were compiled by 
Mary Ann Woloch Vaugh, published by the Ukrainian Heritage Co. in Munster, Indiana, 1982, pp.III-6-7, 32.
 The title of the book is Ukrainian Easter.
       ================================
One tale from the Hutsuls tells that while Jesus was imprisoned, His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary,
 prepared a basket of eggs to present to Pilate when asking mercy for her Son's life.
   As she readied the eggs, her tears fell on them, forming dots of many colors.
  When Mary appeared before Pilate, in her grief she fell to the floor,
 allowing the eggs to roll all over the floor - and they continued 
to roll until they were found all over the world. 
            =================================
Another story tells of a poor peddler who was on his way to market to sell his basket of eggs when
 he came upon a crowd who was mocking and jeering a man carrying a heavy cross.  The peddler ran 
to help the man carry the cross for a while.  When the peddler returned to his basket of eggs by the
roadside, he found that they had been transformed into beautiful pysanky.  The peddler was 
Simon the Cyrenian, the man carrying the heavy cross was Christ.
    ==================================
On the morning after the Sabbath, as another folk tale goes, Mary Magdalena and her 
companions were on their way to Christ's tomb to anoint His body with sweet spices.
 They had taken along a basket of eggs to eat after their work was done, but
when they got to the tomb and found that Christ was risen from the dead, 
they also discovered their eggs had changed to many beautiful colors.
  ==================================
Yet another legend that is 1,000 years old tells of a young woman who was on her way home 
one morning from the market in town with a basket of eggs and a jug of fresh water.  When she 
was traveling the home to her home, she met a stranger sitting on a rock.  Thinking He must 
be tired, she offered Him a drink of her water and was startled to see there were wounds on 
His hands.  The stranger said nothing but accepted her offer and then continued on His way.  
When the woman arrived at her home, she uncovered her basket and discovered her eggs 
were transformed into pysanky.  The stranger was Jesus Christ - and that morning was the first Easter.
===================================
A legend sometimes told is of one year long ago when birds who were traveling south 
were surprised by a sudden sharp freeze.  The poor creatures fell to the ground, 
 too frozen to fly.  The generous Ukrainian peasants took the birds into their homes and nursed
 them until spring when they could fly away on their own.  In gratitude for the kindness shown, 
the birds returned with decorated eggs for the peasants who saved their lives.
   And so, it is said, ever since then, eggs are decorated in beautiful pysanky every spring.
=================================
The power and influence people believed Ukrainian pysanky 
had in the world is reflected in this final legend.
====================
It has been told that far away there is a very large and evil monster chained to a cliff. This 
monster has servants who travel in every country each year taking a tally of how many pysanky
 have been made.  Each year that less eggs have been decorated, the monster's chains are
loosened and there is more evil in the world. If ever there were no pysanky made, the evil one
 would be released and he would destroy the world.  But in the years that the many pysanky 
are made, the monster's chains are held tight, and the power of love and  the goodness that 
the pysanky bring is felt throughout all nations bringing peace and harmony to everyone.

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