April 01, 2015

An Egg for All Occasions

Back in 2006, I got together with some friends and colored eggs for Easter for the first time in probably 20 years. We had so much fun reliving our childhoods (and introducing the tradition to a non-Christian) that we did it a couple more times in subsequent years.

I don't remember why we stopped. I always had fun doing things like that in New York with friends – carving pumpkins, decorating Christmas trees, cooking, baking, doing various arts and crafts.

We were always trying to "up" ourselves, coming up with creative ways to approach a tried and true tradition, a new take on an old favorite. One year, Edith brought home an egg coloring kit none of us had ever seen before: one that required the artist to draw very fine lines in wax around the egg to create the most ornate geometric patters. We tried the foreign technique with delight, and failed miserably, but we had a good laugh about it.

I'd forgotten all about that eggy disaster until an LA friend invited me to the pysanka festival at the Ukrainian Cultural Center. As soon as I saw a photo of the pysanky, I knew those Ukrainian Easter eggs were what I had been trying to create years ago, and had failed miserably.

So I finally got to see what how those eggs were actually supposed to turn out – in person, not just in a photograph.

Each egg's pattern and color scheme holds a significant meaning... (gold) for wealth, red for love...

...and roses and eight-pointed stars for Christ.

Ribbons or belts around the egg represent the endless line of eternity, a fish the symbol for Christ...

...and crosses the resurrection of Christ. Pre-Christianity, they represented the four corners of the world.

The traditional tools for drawing the designs on the eggs (which are preferably uncooked, and not yet drained) include a pencil, a brick of beeswax and a kistka, and a pen fabricated out of a hollow metal cone attached to a stick.

To draw the lines and designs, place a piece of wax in the cone and then heat it in the flame of a candle and trace a line of wax over the drawn pencil line. Or just buy one of these neat electric ones, the wax pen equivalent of a glue gun.

Instead of coloring with dye, designs can be etched into brown eggs...

...or brown eggs can also be waxed, dyed and varnished for a unique wooden egg appearance.

The artist places the wax lines where they don't want the dye to color the egg. Once they dye the egg, they heat it gently, and wipe off the melting wax.

Depending on how intricate the design and how experienced the artist, it can take hours to do just one egg. Once it's dyed and varnished and dried, it's time to poke a tiny hole at either end of the eggshell to let the yellow yolk and clear albumen drain out.

What results is a delicate, sometimes colorful gift to be given to a loved one – or to anyone upon whom you'd like to bestow fortune, love, health, prosperity, and eternal youth (particularly expectant mothers).

I bought two "imperfect" ones for myself at a discounted price, though I can't identify any wrong lines that qualify it as a factory reject. Compared to what I was able to do with my own hand, they look pretty perfect to me.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Jensen's Melrose Theatre (Now Ukrainian Cultural Center) 
Photo Essay: The Eggs and Nests of The Bird Museum

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