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Ukrainian Easter egg hunt

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Sarah Pope (left) of Delta County Libraries helps Olivia Tyan retrieve her Ukrainian Easter egg from the dye without touching it.

The Wheeler Room in Memorial Hall in Hotchkiss came alive last Wednesday as youngsters from the area put their own spin on a tradition that is over 4,000 years old.

About 15 youngsters took part in a workshop that taught them how to dye Ukrainian Easter eggs. Jodeen Stephenson, a volunteer and also the gifted and talented coordinator for the school district, taught the workshop and helped the students create their own elaborate Easter eggs.

"I learned how to do this in junior high school," Stephenson said. "It's a fun thing you can do once a year.

"It's like magic," she added. "When you take the wax off and that cool design is there, it's like, oh, that is really awesome!"

Delta County Libraries helped coordinate the workshop as part of its after hours program.

"This is the first time we've done it here in Hotchkiss. I think it went really great," Hotchkiss librarian Sarah Pope said. "We love partnering and doing these programs that are both educational but also hands on and a lot of fun."

The word for the art of making Ukrainian Easter eggs is pysanky, which comes from the Ukrainian word pysaty, meaning "to write."

"It predates Christianity," Stephenson said. "Originally it was a fertility rite between mothers and daughters. Eggs were given as gifts of fertility."

Over time the eggs came to represent spring and rebirth. The eggs were blessed in church on Easter Sunday. Ukrainian tradition holds that the good fortune you earn during the year depends upon the creation of pysanky eggs because they keep evil away from people and families.

The more eggs you make before Easter, the harder it is for evil to gain strength. If you make fewer eggs or none, it means that evil spirits gained strength throughout the year. Imagery on eggs frequently shows signs of spring and rebirth.

Stephenson walked the children through the complicated process of making Ukrainian Easter eggs from beginning to end.

It starts with raw eggs -- hard boiled eggs will spoil. Also, the eggs have to be raw because they have to be full to sink them in the dye.

Only beeswax should be used to coat the eggs and it is important never to touch them with your bare fingers.

Eggs are soaked in vinegar before getting coated with beeswax because it helps make the egg shells absorb more of the dye and take on more brilliant, intense colors for the design.

"Make a picture in your mind of what you want to do and then draw it," Stephenson instructed.

The children first drew their designs on paper, then transferred them onto the eggs with a tool called a kistka. Kistkas are pen-shaped and are wrapped with wire on one end. Stephenson showed the students how to warm the kistka over a candle and then use it to draw on the beeswax-covered eggs.

Kistkas are color coded: blue makes thin lines, white draws fat lines and the red tools draw lines of medium thickness.

"I like it because you get to be creative," Lilly Jardon said. The 11-year-old is a student at Hotchkiss K-8 and was making pysanky eggs for the first time. She said her egg started out with an elaborate cross design.

"But now it has a big stripe in the middle with rustic green and rustic blue," she said. Obviously Jardon learned the most important lesson quickly: there are no mistakes when designing a pysanky egg -- just happy accidents.

"What do we do when there's a blob?" Stephenson frequently asked her pupils. "Make the blob part of your design."

Other students approached the eggs with a plan. Kaleb Pera, an 8-year-old who goes to school at Rocky Mountain Elementary in Clifton, showed an experienced hand while designing his eggs.

"This is not my first," Pera said. "I've done it many times. I like to color them and save them and make them last for next year so I can collect them again."

He added that his color scheme featured a lot of blue and green, like his favorite computer game, Minecraft.

Another student, 9-year-old Cheyanne Tomaske from Hotchkiss K-8, was proud of her egg, which was dyed green and had many hearts.

"I like how to put the wax on them, and I like tracing the shapes onto it," said Tomaske.

The goal with pysanky eggs is to have them last through multiple Easters. Traditionally, the eggs were left raw but more modern ones are emptied by drilling small holes in the top and bottom of the eggs, stirring (scrambling) the inside of the egg, then blowing out the contents to empty the shell.

If done correctly and kept in a cool, dry environment, the eggs can last for many years and often get handed down through generations of families as heirlooms.

The final step is to remove the beeswax, which can be done in three different ways. If it's on very thinly, you can gently scrape it off with your fingernails. You can take it home and put in the oven and warm it up to melt the wax.

Since beeswax has a very low melting point, the third option is the traditional way, which is to hold it up to the candle flame and melt it.

The event was a huge success and the children got to have an active celebration that fused art and Easter traditions.

"Maybe we could have had some more adults," Pope said. "We had a couple more signed up but they couldn't make it. It's almost more fun for the adults than it is for the kids!"

Of course not every egg is perfect, but some of them turn into real treasures.

"Traditional stores and places in New York City sell them and they are quite expensive," Stephenson said. "I just do it for fun. I usually wind up giving them to the kids. That's what it's about anyway."

Photo by Eric Goold Kiley Pera, Kaleb Pera and Lilly Jardon (left to right) work on their Ukrainian Easter eggs last Wednesday in Memorial Hall in Hotchkiss.
Photo by Eric Goold Jodeen Stephenson demonstrates how to heat the kistka before using it to draw on the beeswax of a Ukrainian Easter egg.
pysanka.info A sample of pysanky, or Ukrainian Easter eggs, found on the Internet.
Photo by Eric Goold Olivia Tyan, Kirsten Pera and Heather Clark (left to right) dip their Ukrainian Easter eggs in dye before drawing more designs.
Photo by Eric Goold Jodeen Stephenson and Sarah Pope show Kirsten Pera (left) the delicate art of handling the egg while turning it into a Ukrainian Easter egg.
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