One of the most popular customs associated with Easter would be the decoration of eggs. The Easter Egg is simply an egg dipped into a dye and then placed in a basket or maybe hidden outside for the kids to find on Easter morning. These are what most people are familiar with, but the Easter Egg has a very long history that predates even the Christian celebration of the Resurrection.
The Pysanka, which is better known as a Ukrainian Egg, is an ancient art form where eggs are elaborately decorated with symbols and geometric designs as well as colors. The word Pysanka is derived from the verb pysaty which means to write. The custom is said to date back to Babylonian times, but because eggs don’t last too long in the world of archeology, there are no ancient examples to see what decorations were used originally.
The method of decoration uses wax to “write” on the eggs and then dipping them in a dye. The wax will protect the color under it from changing but the rest of the egg surface will become the new color. Then wax is applied again to keep the new color where it is wanted and the egg re-dipped. This will go on until all the necessary colors are used and covered. Then holding the egg by a candle flame, the wax is melted and wiped away revealing the egg in all it’s color and design.
Christianity was established in the Ukraine in 988, and like many other pagan customs egg decoration was adopted and “born again” into a custom that fit with the new faith. It was a good fit too. During the pre-Easter season, which we call Lent in the west, christians would observe fasts which included all dairy products. Eggs would have gone to waste and so the decorating customs found a use for them as well as allowed for symbology to form surrounding the eggs.
In pre christian use, the eggs were viewed as symbols of life and good luck. To the christian the eggs symbolized the idea of resurrection and new birth. It is interesting that many pagan customs from throughout the world were so easily adapted into a christian worldview. This to some implies that christianity had it’s roots in paganism or in some fashion “stole” their religion from other pagan sources. To others it expressed the idea that the pagans were themselves ready for christianity, that their culture and beliefs were ready to be cracked open like an egg to reveal a deeper image embedded within their beliefs.
In either case, the adaptation of the egg into a christian world-veiw, brought new meaning to the egg. The new symbols of decoration and the folk tales about their importance would carry through and become one of the central customs of the Lent/Easter season.