Pysanky were not for eating

From our April 2012 issue

By Naden Hewko – Macklin, Sask.

My parents came to Canada from Western Ukraine, bringing their traditions with them. Just as Christmas was celebrated as a religious holiday, so was Easter.

The resurrection of Jesus at Easter was actually the most important celebration of our Ukrainian Catholic faith. It was preceded by six weeks of a strictly observed Lent.

We lived in a mixed faith district so dances were held during the winter months, but once Lent started we were not allowed to go.

Often the drama club would put on a play which we could attend but we couldn’t stay for the dance that followed. Weddings were never ever scheduled during Lent.

There were food restrictions too. Meat was restricted. Fish was to be served every Wednesday and Friday. Dad would buy a barrel of salted herrings which he prepared for eating by soaking in fresh water, changing it frequently over a couple of days.

Then a dressing of vinegar, oil, and sliced onions was poured over the herrings. I thought they were delicious and still enjoy pickled herring.

During the winter, the chickens cut down on egg production. As the days lengthened they started to lay again and mother carefully saved the eggs. She needed several dozen for the special Easter breads she baked. Mother made babka, a rich, tall bread with raisins, baked in round tins.

Another type was paska, with not as many eggs in the dough. These braided breads were also baked in large round pans and were decorated with thin strips of dough forming a cross and petal shaped ornaments. We loved the smell of bread baking in the old wood burning stove.

Eggs were also needed for making pysanky, the intricately decorated Easter eggs used for gift giving or display, not for eating. Pysanky means written upon – as a special stylus was used to trace the designs on the raw egg and cover some part of it with wax, before it was dipped in dye.

This was a long process, done over several days sometimes. To make regular Easter eggs, krashanky, she boiled the eggs and we dipped them in assorted colours.

Onion skins made a lovely bronze color and beet juice dyed eggs a pretty pink. Some years she bought the little tablets for colouring the eggs. Krashanky means coloured and we could eat these eggs on Easter Sunday after the church service.

Attending the Easter Church service was very important. Food to be served at the noon meal was taken to church in a basket covered with an embroidered cloth. The baskets of food were blessed after the service and served for the Easter meal with everyone expected to take a piece of every item.

Included were the paska, babka, krashanky, baked ham, sausage, butter, cottage cheese, and horseradish. Sometimes the horseradish was just sliced but often mother grated it and mixed it with grated pickled beets, a very tasty relish. How we enjoyed the fresh butter on the Easter bread.

Chocolate Easter eggs and rabbits were not a part of our Easter tradition. Not until we married and had children of our own did we introduce the Easter treats.