When I was a small child, my class went to visit a museum devoted to many different cultures. It was made up of a cluster of small cottages, with each dedicated to a different culture; such as Denmark, China, and Hungary. Yet, the House of Ukraine stuck out to me the most when I looked upon a basket of ornate and fantastically decorated eggs on display. I was so ecstatic about these pretty little eggs throughout the rest of the day and until we all went home. I remember when I tried to tell my mom about these eggs with unique lines and brilliant colors that my younger self couldn’t properly explain, and there was no computer to look up proof of these Easter wonders as the internet did not exist – it was the early 1970’s. So, that fantastical image of the decorated eggs sat in the back of my mind for years and years, until one day when I was home from college.
It was spring break; as I recall, I had left college and returned home to visit my family. My high school friends came over to hang out and ended up taking me to some sort of bazaar or fair that I can’t quite recall the name or proper title of. Several booths of artisans, crafters, and self established little businesses filled the gym of this local college where I encountered a wonderful ghost from my past. This lady there was decorating eggs, just like the ones from when I was a kid.I was so happy to see them took it upon myself to learn of these neat little wonders. One of the coolest things I remember she was using beeswax to write designs on an egg. “It has to be beeswax. No other wax will work.” She told those of us watching. What I know now is that other waxes paraffin or soy do not have the properties that beeswax has and they won’t seal the egg or come off the egg cleanly at the end. Beeswax has very unique properties that are gentle enough to not harm the egg shell.
My bored friends drug me away before I could learn more. It was the late 1980’s and information still was’t at your fingertips like it is now. When I went back to school, I was so busy with classes and work, that I quickly forgot about the eggs again.
Later on in life, I popped into the bookstore, looking for a recommended title on parenting, and saw a book on decorated eggs. From the sublimely simple to the gloriously intricate, the book was dedicated to Eastern European egg art. Ukrainian pysanky, Polish pisanki, Croatian pisanici, Sorbian pisaci. The book called to me, but my time and funds were limited, so I put it back, and got the book I had come looking for. With three small children and a full time job there was not time for such a luxury. I was so busy keeping up with day to day life, and my thoughts of eggs were put aside again.
Since then, computers have brought the world to our fingertips. I’ve learned that most countries in Eastern and Central Europe have egg decorating traditions, and these traditions have a few things in common. The eggs are prized possessions, and often given as gifts, meant to bring luck or protection to the owner. Many of the motifs, patterns, and colors have traditional meanings; such as green meaning spring, hope, and growth and purple meaning fasting, faith, patience, and trust., ect. Many of the cultures that make the Pysanky eggs happen to keep similar traditions. The craft is passed from one generation to the next, with many families having their own recognizable style. Almost all of them are made using a wax-resist method, and all of the wax-resist methods rely upon beeswax.
Beeswax is necessary for the wax-resist methods because it adheres well to to egg shells; doesn’t crack, rub, or scrape off; and fills in even the fine pores of the egg shell. Other waxes either don’t stick well or don’t fill the pores of the eggshell. This means that only beeswax keeps the colored dyes used in the wax-resist method exactly where you want them to be. Only beeswax can give fine crisp lines and; when done, the beeswax melts off, without causing discoloration to the egg.
The kids are much older now, but life isn’t any simpler. Now, we keep bees and make and sell beeswax and honey body products. There still isn’t much spare time. But I do get to make my own colorful creations using beeswax. They are not eggs they are our soaps and without it, our products just wouldn’t be the same.
Neither would the decorated eggs of Central and Eastern Europe.