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We’ve tried to make them before, but without much success. Even though we bought “Luba’s” kit several years ago, and have been to a few annual egg dyeing gatherings at St. John the Baptist (our Ukrainian parish), we just never got the knack of how to make pyzanky, traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs. If you’ve never seen them, the bottom line is that pyzanky make every other Easter egg look...well, pretty shabby. Creating intricate and colorful designs on eggs with melted wax and dyeing them one layer at a time is a slow and painstaking process. The thought of blowing the egg out after all that work is harrowing. Several hours can be easily invested in a single egg. The result, however, is fabulous.
Two Sundays ago, we packed up our kit, some dyes, and a dozen eggs, and took them to St. John’s in Salem. After Divine Liturgy, we joined regular parishioners downstairs to share lunch and make pyzanky. For the first time, and for no apparent reason, we had much better luck than in previous years. People who knew what they were doing were more than happy to offer advice. After two hours, none of our eggs were finished, but all of us felt like we’d be able finish them at home on our own. That is precisely what we did.
I left the kit and jars of dye out on the kitchen counter, just in case someone wanted to try another egg. Usually, an activity like that appeals to one age group more than another. But it seems that the slow and detailed art of traditional Easter egg dyeing really caught on in our house. Every day that week, there were at least three of us who worked on the pyzanky. We looked up traditional designs, the three thousand year history of the art, and practical tips about how long to let an egg set in each color, and how to melt the wax off when the final dye was applied.
Working on pyzanky meant that groups of us sat together for extended periods of time. We focused on small and intricate work, and helped each other deal with the grief of breaking an egg after having put so much time into it. We tried things that worked, and others that didn’t. Some focused on design, and others on technique. Last Sunday, the girls went back to Salem to show what they had done, and learn even more. Though they probably won’t admit it, I think they also went back for the split pea soup and sausage.
Our pyzanky aren’t anything to brag about, but at least this time we actually have something to show for the effort. The funny thing is that the time and patience these eggs take have seemed to encourage us to do more. Traditionally, over the course of Lent, a large Ukrainian family would often make more than five dozen pyzanky. I imagine they did it much as we’ve been doing them: after dinner, when the day is done, when the movements in our hearts are more easily discerned.
We hardly have time to breathe sometimes. I think that’s part of why pyzanky-making has been such a hit at our house this year. The whole process slows you down. It makes you focus your attention on one line at a time, one color at a time. But there’s an even deeper reason why the people in our family have been so willing to spend hours making a single Easter egg. The reason is Easter itself.
We invest so much of our time and resources in great pursuits, personal development, education, and service. It is liberating to “throw time away” making an intricate Easter egg that could break in an instant. Fragile as the human soul, an egg holds the promise of new life. It is symbolic of all we hope and long for. And like the lives we live here, with patience and time, it can carry a design that is intricate and colorful and beautiful.
Easter is all beauty. It is the evidence that in His time and in His way, God will make all things both new and beautiful. All that is fragile will be strong. All that is dull will burst with color. All that is ordinary will become breathtaking. As we melt the wax and dip an egg into dye again, how we long for Easter to dawn, not only this year but eternally.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.