ONE @ 50: The Great Egg Hunt

In honor of ONE magazine’s 50th-anniversary year, the CNEWA blog series, ONE @ 50: From the Vault, aims to revive and explore the wealth of articles published in ONE magazine throughout its history. This Easter season, read about the tradition of decorated eggs in Eastern Europe in this story originally published in March-April 2002.

Read an excerpt from “The Great Egg Hunt” below, then read the full story.

The great egg hunt of 2001 got its start in 1999 when I visited Slovakia for the annual tinkers’ symposium at the Povazske Museum in Zilina. Before then I knew that Slovakia, like Ukraine, had a long history of decorated Easter eggs and had often seen samples of this colorful art. The symposium, however, was where I first saw wirework eggs made by tinkers. Like other decorated eggs, they are made with blown eggs; unlike other eggs, they are decorated with woven wire. Two years later, again in Slovakia, I finally learned more about these unusual eggs and even ended up crisscrossing the country on an impromptu egg hunt.

Called kraslice in Slovakia, pysanky in Ukraine, decorated eggs are one of the oldest and richest forms of folk art found in Eastern Europe. They first gained attention in the 17th century, but their origins lie in prehistoric times, when eggs were ascribed magical powers. Used in seasonal, agrarian and other rituals, eggs were symbols of the sun, light, fertility and spring, as well as the rebirth and continuity of life.

For centuries eggs and decorated eggs were used in countless rituals all over the world. For example, an egg held to a child’s lips was believed to encourage early speech. Placed in a plowed field, it ensured a good crop, while one under a barn entryway protected cows’ health and fertility. Eggs were important in wedding dishes and customs, as well as at Easter. They were also placed on graves to commemorate the dead.

As it did with many other customs and traditions, Christianity adopted the egg and “baptized” it, adding new symbolism associated with Christ’s passion, death and resurrection to the original meaning as well as to the designs.

Read more.

Jacqueline Ruyak, a freelance writer, frequently traveled to Central Europe on assignment for ONE.

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