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Pysanky — symbols of Ukrainian heritage

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A Ukrainian Easter basket at St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Transcona features traditional offerings and colourful pysanky.

PHOTO BY DARLENE LITCHIE Enlarge Image

A Ukrainian Easter basket at St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Transcona features traditional offerings and colourful pysanky. Photo Store

The pysanka — the Ukrainian Easter egg — is a familiar symbol of Ukrainian culture and heritage in Canada.

Pysanky are considered works of art.  They are that and more. Pysanky have meaning and, according to folklore, great power.

The people of ancient Ukraine decorated pysanky with pagan designs representing nature and the sun. Following the introduction of Christianity to Ukraine, pysanky featured Christian motifs as well.

Pysanky are richly decorated with intricate patterns and meaningful details. Deer and rams symbolize wealth and prosperity. Hearts symbolize love. Floral designs symbolize hope and the return of spring. Crosses and fish symbolize Jesus. Geometric shapes are the most ancient symbols of all. Designs go around the pysanka, never ending and symbolizing eternity.

The standard colours of pysanky are white, yellow, orange, green, red, and black. White represents purity and the potential for future growth. Yellow and green represent wisdom, springtime and the harvest. Orange represents the warmth of the sun.  Red represents the blood of Christ. Black represents maturity.

A pysanka begins as a clean, raw egg. The egg itself is a symbol of new life. Designs are written onto the egg using a kistka, or stylus.  Beeswax is scooped into the funnel head of the kistka. The funnel is held to the flame of a candle. The wax melts and becomes fluid.  The wax then flows out of the funnel tip onto the surface of the egg. The egg is also immersed in a succession of dyes, working from the lightest to darkest colours.

At last, the egg is held up to the flame of a candle. The wax upon the egg melts and is removed. The beautiful designs and colours are revealed. The yolk may be blown out of the egg. The egg is also varnished.  

Once the egg is blessed, it becomes a true pysanka.

Pysanky are kept in the home or given as gifts to loved ones.  

Pysanky celebrate the renewal of nature in spring and the Resurrection of Christ at Easter.

The award-winning short film Pysanka — The Ukrianian Easter Egg is available to borrow on DVD from the Transcona branch of the Winnipeg Public Library.

Oserodok Ukrainian Cultural & Educational Centre in Winnipeg (204-942-0218 or oseredok.blogspot.ca) is an excellent resource for all of your pysanky needs, including pysanky workshops.

As an aside...  The Art of Revolution:  The Political Aesthetic of Ukraine’s Euromaidan/ Posters from the Early Days in IIndependence Square  is now on display at Oserodok.

See this noteworthy temporary exhibit before it concludes on March 29.

Darlene Litchie is a community correspondent for Transcona.

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