Marge Prehoda introduced me to celebrating Easter with pysanky. These family heirloom, hand-decorated raw eggs were an important element rounding out her family's Easter Basket. They were placed alongside the traditional foods to be eaten on Easter Day – ham and sausages, paska (a rich round bread with elaborated dough ornaments), krashanky (edible one-color hard boiled eggs), cheese, butter, salt, and grated horseradish (a reminder of Christ's bitter ordeal) . The family's Easter Basket was then brought to their church's sunrise service Easter morning to be blessed by the priest, the foods later eaten and the pysanky either exchanged among relatives and friends and/or kept as symbolic heirlooms.
Marge Dudla Prehoda (1930-2019) was born in Granville, Washington County, New York, marrying her husband William, and raising her 5 children there. She was an active member of the Saints Peter and Paul Byzantine Rite Churches in her hometown. It is here where she learned the art of making pysanky back in the 1970s from Rev. Hal Stockert, the church's priest.
Marge's Dudla family is of Czechoslovakian ancestry, but she learned the Ruthanian technique from Rev. Stockert, and then shared the tradition with her daughter, Karen Folger, living in neighboring West Pawlet, Vermont. Marge and Karen taught pysanky multiple times during the early 1990s in our Growing Up in the North Country, children's workshop series, and we acquired a collection of their pysanky eggs, and a mockup Easter Basket with all the fixings, for our Folk Art Collection in 1997.
Pysanky start as a whole raw eggs on which designs are drawn. The egg is dipped in vinegar to remove any surface oils and then into the first color dye, and allowed to dry. A heated stylus (kystka) is used to apply melted bees wax to the egg where the first color is to remain. A new color is added by dipping the egg Into the dye and applying wax on the area where the color is to remain. When all the colors have been added, the wax is removed by gently warming successive sections of the egg near a lighted candle and carefully wiping with a cloth. A little varnish is applied for the shine.
An ancient Eastern European legend says that making pysanky keeps Evil chained, and the world free from destruction. Tradition gives pysanky special powers, based on the symbols found in each design. Chickens or birds are for fertility. Rakes and wheat assure a good harvest. Leaves and flowers life and growth. Other symbols were adopted from Christianity including fish, nets, crosses and crown of thorns. Colors also have their meanings: yellow for youth and light; orange for endurance and strength, green for spring renewal and hope. Continuous lines symbolize eternity.
Every Spring around Easter I think of Marge and her pysanky. It's the time of rebirth in my garden, some of the new growth revealing where I planted the horseradish roots she also shared with me so many years ago.