Easter eggs, networking, and bowling – Ukraine’s most interesting Easter traditions

15 April, 10:46 AM
Easter 2023 (Photo:depositphotos/vikhastanadiya)

Easter 2023 (Photo:depositphotos/vikhastanadiya)

Lullabies about pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs), special water for preparing natural dyes from plants, and many more Ukrainian Easter traditions.

Ukraine’s rich history and folklore mean that Easter traditions vary from region to region, sometimes even from settlement to settlement. Even neighboring communities can have different dialects, customs, songs, anddishes on the festive Easter table. Look at the tool used for decorating Easter eggs with the help of wax, for example. A stick with a sheet metal tube at the end often called a ‘pysachok’, you can also hear it called ‘pysaltse’, ‘kistka’, ‘pyshchok’, ‘myhula’, ‘dedyk’, ‘kistochka’, ‘struhalochka’, ‘shtuchka’, or ‘sharalyk’ depending on where you are in Ukraine.

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Pysanka dates back to Kyivan Rus'

The earliest archaeological evidence for decorated ceramic eggs in Ukraine dates to the 11th and 12th Centuries. One of the oldest was found in Medzhybizh in Western Ukraine’s Khmelnytskyi Oblast.

French cartographer described Ukrainian Easter traditions of the 17th Century

A French-Polish cartographer, engineer, and architect, Guillaume Levasseur de Beauplan, recalls in his book Description d'Ukranie that a Ukrainian priest could collect several thousands decorated eggs during the Easter services. He describes a tradition that has survived in many parts of Ukraine until today to douse people in cold water, naming the Monday after Easter Sunday “doused.” He describes a group of lads that “caught” girls, took them to a well, and poured six buckets of cold water over their heads – so long as it was before noon. The girls could get their revenge the following Tuesday, pouring cold water on the lads’ heads.

Tricks for attracting money

Polissia has one unique Easter tradition – when the priest tells his congregation “Khryston voskres” (Christ has risen), instead of the traditional response of “voistnyu voskres!” (He has truly risen), people instead said silently “I have fish.” They believed this would help them accumulate additional wealth throughout the year.

"Mute" water for preparing dyes from plants

There were many rituals for collecting water for decorating Easter eggs. InKharkiv Oblast, for instance, water had to be collected before dawn without speaking or causing any other noise. Using a new cup, believers had to draw water from where three streams flowed into one, being sure to collect from seven to nine different areas. Water collected from birch snow was considered the luckiest. These sacred rituals all remained pagan holdovers.

Lullabies about pysanky

This historical lullaby comes to us thanks to the Baba Yelka project, an ethnographic expedition undertaken in Kropyvnytskyi in central Ukraine in2019. They collected the text of this lullaby about pysanky (decorated Easter eggs):

Oy, lyuli, lyuli, lyulichki.
Silk ropes.
Painted battens.
Go to Kirill.
What's Kirill doing?
He's painting a pysanka,
He's rocking a baby. Ah, ah, ah.

Using pysanky in courting a partner

Easter is often believed to be about renewal – the spring season sees life return after a cold, dark winter; Christ rises from the clutches of death, and new relationships can be formed. Ethnographer Viktor Kosakivskyi discovered how pysanky was used in courting during an expedition to Vinnytsia Oblast.

In one settlement, a girl presented a boy with three decorated eggs in an embroidered kerchief, while in others it was 10 eggs. Boys requested pysanky on Maslenitsa, or Butter Week (Feb. 20 in 2023). A boy would come to a girl not alone, but with his friends, meaning the girl had to decorate eggs and embroider kerchiefs not only for her beloved, but also for his friends.

The swing was used for networking

Oleksa Voropay, a researcher of folk traditions, wrote about the tradition of building a swing on Easter on the so-called “oreli.” Boys built a swing in the center of town shortly before Easter. They drove two pillars into the ground with a cross beam and board underneath.

The swing would become the focal point of entertainment in town. On Easter Sunday and the following two days, everyone in the settlement would gather there. Children played with pysanky, sang songs, and danced. Their parents chatted and danced. A medieval networking event, so to speak.

Bowling, marbles, and wishbones – traditional Easter games with pysanky

“Navbytky” is an Easter tradition like the ‘wishbone’ at Thanksgiving. One holds a pysanka up with the top of the egg pointing out while another hits it with their own pysanka. They take turns hitting each other’s eggs until one has cracks on both sides of the egg. The winner – the one whose egg didn’t crack on both sides – receives the loser’s egg, and then would compete with another winner. The game is especially beloved by children and still played today.

“Roller” is a bowling game with similarities to marbles. People roll their eggs down a hill or some other incline with a barrier at the bottom, trying to hit the eggs of others. The person with the most hits wins.

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“Throwing” is a game somewhat like lawn bowling. Two eggs are placed next to each other two meters from the participants. To win, the “thrower”must toss their egg and hit both pysanky at the same time.

The Smart Osvita project introduced these traditions to Ukrainian children now forced to live abroad. The project offers about 800 middle school students free lessons about Ukrainian language, literature, and history. Each week focuses on a different theme.

On April 6, folk traditions researcher Yaryna Zakalska spoke about Easter traditions, while ethnic folk singers from the ‘Huliay Horod’ group featuring Anastasia Filatova and Iryna Baramba sang traditional spring songs.

The classes are part of the ‘Stay with Ukraine’ initiative, supported by international organizations like Theirworld, Global Business Coalition, and Educo Foundation. Anna Liudovna is a folk traditions researcher and manager of the Smart Osvita project.

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