Images courtesy of KievTravel, Ukraine.
In the tradition of the Christian Orthodox Churches, legend says that the first real Easter egg was given to the Roman emperor Tiberius by Mary Magdalene soon after Christ’s ascension. Mary went to Rome to preach, and followed the custom to bring the emperor some gift. Wealthy people usually gave jewels and poor people brought to the emperor’s palace whatever they could. Mary gave the emperor a humble white egg saying, “The Christ has risen!”
The emperor expressed his disbelief, “Nobody can rise from the dead ….. this is as hard to believe as it is to believe this egg can turn red!” At once the egg became red, and since that time eggs serve as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, the victory of life over death.
In ancient times eggs bore magical meaning. Archeologists find eggs in tombs and graves dating back to times long before Christianity. Those eggs are either natural ones or made from marble, clay or other materials. An egg is described in numerous myths as the symbol of life and renewal, the source of everything which exists in this world. The egg was a symbol of spring sun which brought life and light, warmth and the end of frosts.
It was a custom to give an egg as a small gift to pagan gods, to exchange eggs with friends and relatives on the first day of New Year and on birthdays. Of course, very rich people gave golden eggs instead of colored hen eggs! In fact, the tradition to paint eggs in the Ukraine dates back to pagan times when people performed magic rituals connected with nature awakening each Spring.
After Christianity was introduced into the Ukraine, the tradition continued, assimilating magical beliefs from the past. Ukrainians believed that blessed eggs could help to put out fire or to find lost cattle. They also stroked the cattle with egg to keep them healthy and mixed egg shells with seeds to ensure rich crops.
Egg painting was typically done in rural areas where people lived in small Ukrainian village houses and made painted eggs in late winter or early spring period, when there was not much work on the fields. They gathered, sang songs, embroidered tissues and painted eggs.
Facts and Figures About Ukraine
In area, Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, with only Russia, its neighboring country, being bigger. Ukraine lies in southeastern Europe bordering the Black Sea. It became an independent country in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved. Nowadays it is a democratic country with a population of 44 million, about 80% Orthodox Christians and 10% Ukrainian Catholics.
Traditional Ukrainian eggs or pysankas are painted on birds eggs using hot wax. First, the wax is laid on the egg by means of a small metal tube with a wooden handle, making a contour. Then, an egg is dipped into one color, again covered by wax in parts which should preserve that color and then put into another color. Depending on the color and design variations, this may be done many times with a lot of artistic forethought. When the egg painting is finished, the egg is warmed to melt the wax, and the pysanka is ready! In earlier times, Ukrainians used onion peel and berries juices to produce strong natural colors, but today modern paints are readily available and used more often. Still the work requires great skill to do well.
Different regions of the Ukraine have their specialties for egg ornamentation. For example, Kiev painted eggs are multi-colored (beginning with light pastel colors to dark ones), Podil eggs are decorated with delicate plant ornamentation, Lvov eggs are more geometrical, Gutsul eggs astonish by the difficulty of their thin geometrical ornament and bright yellow color range. There are numerous explanations of ornamentation on Ukrainian eggs in various regions. The curve means Eternity and the Sun cycle, the grate and the fylfot means the Sun. The red color has the meaning of joy and love, the yellow color means the moon and stars or the crops, the bronze color stands for Mother Earth.
Introduced at the end of the 10th century, Ukrainian Orthodox Easter is celebrated the first Sunday after the Spring equinox and the March full moon. The tradition to exchange painted eggs on Easter was a part of the Russian Orthodox culture as well. During the reign of the Tsar Alexey Mikhaylovich, about 37 thousand eggs were prepared for Easter celebrations. The eggs were both natural (hen’s, swan’s, pigeon, duck) and made of wood, stone, porcelain, bone, glass.
One of the first attempts to create a unique jewellery Easter egg was made by Carl Fabergé in 1884 when Tsar Alexander III commissioned an unusual a gift for his wife, Czarina Maria. The egg reminded the empress of her homeland, and afterwards the tzar decided to order an Easter egg each year for Maria.
Fabergé went on to design Easter eggs for another eleven years until Alexander III died, after which Nicholas II, Alexander’s son, continued the tradition. Fabergé eggs always had some surprise kept in great secrecy until the presentation. He used a variety of materials for his famous, valuable eggs like silver, gold, copper, nickel, and palladium as well as many different jewels. Today they are in many private and museum collections around the world.
Other Ukrainian Traditions
When you are invited to visit a Ukrainian family, it would be courteous to bring a small gift or flowers.
When buying flowers for a Ukrainian lady, remember to take an odd number.
When you enter a Ukrainian home, it would be better to take the shoes off. You will be offered special slippers for guests.
Ukrainians don’t place empty bottles on the table. When a drink is empty, the bottle should be placed under the table. Otherwise, it will be bad luck for money.
In Ukraine, women don’t sit at the corner of a table. That’s considered to be bad luck for marriage.
Don’t shake hands across the threshold (door entrance). You guessed it …. bad luck!