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The Colors of Easter, Handed Down

For One Alum, Ukrainian Pysanky Eggs Are the Stuff of Childhood Memories—And a New Book

By Sala Levin ’10

Colorfully decorated Easter eggs

Terese Wallack Waldron ’83 (below) loved celebrating Easter with her family and their Ukrainian tradition of intricately decorated eggs known as pysanky. Now, the springtime ritual is the subject of a children's book Waldron wrote, with illustrations by her cousin.

Photo by iStock

Growing up in Bristol, Conn., Terese Wallack Waldron ’83 always eagerly awaited her family’s Easter tradition: decorating pysanky. Waldron’s Ukrainian grandmother brought the ancient custom of dyeing these intricately decorated springtime eggs from her native country when she immigrated in 1923. Waldron, her seven siblings and their many cousins spent hours choosing colors, making mistakes, starting over and creating treasured memories together.

Terese Wallack Waldron headshot

Now, Waldron is hoping to bring the joy she felt to a larger audience with “Sophie and Her Sisters Decorate Eggs for Easter,” a rhyming children’s book with illustrations by Lisa Mendillo Kulhanek, Waldron’s first cousin and a veteran of those egg-dyeing sessions.

The book follows five sisters—the same number as in Waldron’s family—as they come together during the week of Easter to teach their nieces the finer points of the time-honored practice. “This story is about creating an experience with children on a multigenerational level,” Waldron said.

First, pysanky artisans must “write” (the root of the word pysanky means to write) a design on the eggshell using a stylus and melted beeswax. Then, they dip the egg in various dyes to achieve a multicolored effect. The eggs often feature symbolic geometric designs, and highly saturated and graduated hues.

“Sophie and Her Sisters Decorate Eggs for Easter” book cover

The self-published book got its start more than 20 years ago, when Waldron’s three children were small and the longtime marketing professional found herself “having this more creative voice around rhymes and songs,” she said. After making pysanky with her kids and neighbors one Easter, she hand-wrote a short book, which she put away in a drawer and didn’t think about again until a bout of pandemic lockdown-inspired cleaning.

“Everyone was purging closets and desks and drawers, and I found it. And I thought, this story is still relevant for families who are recovering from the impact of COVID and are again embracing holiday traditions. It has this sweet and joyful charm to it,” she said. She asked Kulhanek, a graphic designer, to create the colorful and whimsical characters in the book.

The tradition of painting pysanky dates back hundreds of years in Ukraine, which will celebrate Orthodox Easter this year on April 16, a week after Catholic and Protestant Easter on April 9. A number of stories and legends explain it: In one, the Virgin Mary gave eggs to soldiers at the cross where Jesus was crucified; she pleaded with them to show her son mercy and cried, her tears falling on the eggs and turning into colorful spots. Another interpretation holds that the yellow yolk of the eggs represents the sun, returning after a cold, gray winter.

The ritual took on a new significance last year, when Easter fell two months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Some people held pysanky-making workshops to raise money for humanitarian causes, and exhibits of the vibrant eggs brought awareness to Ukraine, its beloved traditions and its history.

Proceeds from sales of the book, available on Etsy, support Ukraine directly as well as through the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital’s Safer Ukraine initiative, which helps evacuate and care for pediatric cancer patients and their families. Both survivors of the disease themselves, they thought boosting the project “could be a very sweet spot at a time when things are very devastating,” said Waldron.



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