From time to time, my wife will invite a group of good friends and family to our house to decorate eggs for Easter. If it happens to be the first time you’ve been invited to her annual ritual, initially you’ll conjure up visions of women and kids running around the house dipping those hard-boiled white chicken droppings into bowls full of food coloring. Au contraire. Olga is Ukrainian and what she has in mind is something quite different. They call it Pysanky. For you language buffs, that comes from the verb meaning “to write”. I have a suspicion that it may also be translated “do not drop”, but I could be mistaken.
As we prepare for the ensuing turmoil associated with an evening that sometimes realizes 40 people in the house, we have our duties. Well, at least she tells me what I need to do so the evening goes smoothly. It typically begins with hauling up the laundry table from the basement and placing it to adjoin our dining room table. She then locates the boxes of Easter Egg decorating paraphernalia. Hiding in our basement are those boxes containing little sticks with bowls that look like pipes for miniature leprechauns, rubber bands, special brown candle wax and some cleaning liquid marked with a skull and crossbones on the label.
The next part is my favorite. We cover all the tables and kitchen counters with newspaper or anything else we can find that’s highly flammable. In my usual paranoia, I retrieve the fire extinguishers and strategically place gallons of water throughout the house in open containers that are easily overturned. This way we can use the spilled water on the carpeting to remove dye stains and egg yolks the next day. Anyway, there’s something about open flame and combustible materials that makes me nervous. We’ve only had one fire in all these years, so far, and that wasn’t big enough to call the fire department.
When her guests arrive and have consumed various pizzas and enough coffee to get their hands really jittery, the fun begins. Every once in a while some novice shows up with a dozen eggs. The experts (those who have been here before) giggle and then tell the newbie that they will be lucky to finish one egg in the entire evening.
The decoration process goes something like this: Each uncooked egg gets a pencil drawing of the design the artist has chosen for their masterpiece. We have books that have pictures of these eggs done by actual people, or so they lead you to believe. Maybe it’s me, but I think the pictures are computer-generated. Back to our process. A coat of wax along the pencil marking is then applied using the little pipe thingy. The egg is placed in the color you want for the next application. It’s really not that complicated (Olga made me say that or nobody would show up and we have to eat all that pizza). Anyway, that routine is repeated until you’re hands and clothing are covered with egg dyes (these are not permanent dyes and can be rendered almost invisible with only 2 or 3 trips to a professional cleaner and washing your hands with paint thinner). Then, you melt off the wax with the candles, trying not to burn our house down in the process. It’s very important to keep in mind that if you hold them near the flame too long, they can incubate and you’ll have more than you bargained for in 21 days.
Invariably, someone will break an egg two hours into the process, usually when applying heat. I have personally seen this reduce strong Eastern-European women to tears.
Keep in mind that these eggs are uncooked, so you don’t want to break them for the next millennium or so. One time we went away for a week in the summer and didn’t leave the air conditioning on. The nicely decorated eggs were in a hutch that the sun inconveniently beat on, until one of them burst. Did you ever walk over a sewer cover in Manhattan in the summer? The smell did eventually clear out. Too bad about the pet canary, though. He was getting old anyway.
During the evening, Olga usually gives a brief history lesson of Ukrainian Easter Eggs. Then the newly minted egg art is dutifully packaged in paper towels and sent home with their owners to be proudly displayed but never, ever eaten.
When the evening draws to a close, all of the decorated eggs will be masterpieces. Maybe they’re not perfect works of art but they will represent something more important. Friends and family came together and now have a unique memento of their time as they prepare to celebrate the Resurrection.
“Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here” Mark 16:6