Oleksa Voropay

Олекса Воропай


From Oleksa Voropay, "Folk Customs of Our People"  (1958, pp. 261-264)


Many legends exist about the custom of preparing pysanky and krashanky for Easter. The following are a few of them.

Legends recorded in Podillya say that, when Jesus Christ arose from the dead, he said to the soldiers who were guarding his tomb: “Go forth and tell all the people that Christ has risen!  So that they will believe you, I give you this token.” With this the Savior took several krashanky from his tomb and gave them to the soldiers.  From that day forth the custom of coloring eggs for Easter began.

A poor man was carrying eggs in a basket to sell them at the bazaar.  At the same time, Christ was being led to his crucifixion. The cross was heavy, and the Savior kept falling beneath his heavy load.  The man felt sorry for Christ; he left his bag on the road, and went to help Christ carry his cross – he carried it all the way to Golgotha, the place of crucifixion. When he returned to his basket he saw that the eggs had been transformed into pysanky and krashanky1.

After the Savior had ascended into heaven, Mary Magdalene came to Rome to preach the Gospels there. In Rome she stood before the emperor Tiberius and raised up a red egg, saying: Christ is risen!” Thus she began her sermon.2

In Kyivshchyna it is said that, when Jesus walked with St. Peter on earth, they passed through a village……when the people saw Christ, they began throwing stones and clods at him.  When a stone touched Christ’s clothing, it turned into a pysanka, and when a clod touched it, the clod turned into a krashanka.  St. Peter collected them all and placed them in a pocket.  Later he gave the pysanky and krashanky away to people.  From this comes the custom of preparing pysanky and krashanky for Easter.

In the Uman’ region they say that, when Christ was going to his crucifixion, non-believers attempted to lead him into temptation. They gathered stones into the hem of a skirt and asked him: “What is in this skirt?” Christ replied “The painted and the written.”  They opened the skirt, thinking they would have a good laugh, only to find that, truly, it was filled with krashanky and pysanky (painted and written eggs).

In Poltavshchyna there is a legend that Mary, Mother of God, wrote pysanky when Jesus was still a small child.  “The child,” they say “was very amused with these toys.”

The Hutsuls say Mary wrote pysanky and gave them to Pontius Pilate, hoping he would show mercy to her son.  While she was writing the pysanky, she was crying, and the tears poured over the eggs.  That is why the Hutsuls, when they write pysanky, make spots on the eggs, similar to teardrops.

The Hutsuls have yet another legend.  Far off in the mountains, bound to a sheer precipice with heavy iron chains, there is a terrible monster.  And that monster has twelve envoys, who go among the villages and towns and pay close attention to how the people there live. They report back to the monster everything that they see and hear.  If the envoys tell him that the people are poor and argue among themselves, the monster rejoices and laughs so hard that the mountains shake, loosening his chains. If the envoys tell him that the people live well and in harmony, the monster becomes very angry, scowls, and the chains squeeze his evil flesh all the harder. The most fearful news for the monster is to hear that people are writing pysanky, that they haven’t forgotten this ancient tradition: in that case he roars, tears at his bonds with all his might, and beats his head against the cliff so hard that sparks fly.  This causes thunder and lightning and his chains become so tight, they nearly tear him apart3.


Once this legend was well known throughout Ukraine:

After the day of his Crucifixion the Saviour enthroned the head devil Beelzebub in a cave under the cliffs where his tomb was located. He commanded him to gnaw on 12 iron chains, 12 iron doors, and 12 iron locks.  If Beelzebub is able to gnaw through all of this in the time between one Easter and the next, then the world will come to an end.  The devil first gnawed through the locks, then through the doors, and was about to gnaw through the last of the chains – he only had to bite his teeth together one more time. Suddenly the people sang “Khrystos Voskres (Christ is Risen)!” All of Beelzebub’s locks, doors and chains became whole again, and he had to start gnawing through them all over again. If a time were ever to come when people no longer sang “Khrystos Voskres,” then the devil will gnaw through the last chain, and it will be the end of the world4.

*    *    *    *

In the Kaniv district there is this legend:  It is said that the archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary on Saturday (the day after the crucifixion) and said to her: “Your son will rise from the dead.” Mary was eating breakfast at the time, and had just finished eating a fish, leaving only a pile of bones. She crossed herself and said: “My son will rise from the dead when this fish comes back to life!”  Suddenly the fish flopped and came back to life5!

In Halychyna there is a widespread legend about a Jew who was eating a rooster.  A farm hand came up to him and said “Christ is risen!”  The Jew replied “He’ll rise from the dead when this rooster comes back to life!” As soon as he said that, the bones attached themselves one to another, and the rooster came back to life6.

*    *    *    *

There are several legends on the theme:  is Velykden’ (Easter, but literally “Great Day”) really a great day?

Once there was, or so they say, a man named Svyryd.  As he was awaiting Velykden’ (Easter), he thought to himself: “People say ‘Velyk-den’,’ but I mean to find out if it really is a great day.” And so on the first day of the bright holiday, he harnessed a pair of oxen and went out to the field with his farm hand to plow.  People were in church, praying, and he was out in the fields, plowing.  They had just begun plowing, throwing aside perhaps ten colds of dirt, from below the ground they heard a fearsome noise – a bit like the sound of distant thunder – and Svyryd, along with his plow and oxen fell through the earth.  On that spot a mohyla arose (funeral mound). It is still known to this day as “Svyryd’s mohyla.” They say that if you go up to the mohyla, and place your ear against the ground, you can sometimes hear the sound of someone spurring on his oxen with a “hey-hey!”7

Velykden’ is called that because, in the days when Christ was born, the sun shone very strongly and the days were so long that you would have to put seven of our days together to equal one of theirs. The it was that when the sun arose on Sunday, it would not set again until Saturday. When Christ was crucified, the days got shorter.  Today only the “royal” doors8 in the church stand open for seven days in a row.  That’s why this day is called great/big9.

Translator’s note:  The Hutsul legend from Part I has become very widespread in recent years.  It is mentioned briefly in early American works on the subject (Surmach, UGS books) , and the monster is given a name – e.g. “Pekun.”  Contemporary Ukrainian books on pysanky give progressively more and more intricately detailed versions of the story.


  1. 1.These two legends were recorded in the village of Voronovytsi in Podillya in 1943 from Martha H., but they are not recent; similar legends were recorded previously.

  2. 2.This legend, of Greek origin, dates to the 10th century

  3. 3.I transcribed this legend in “Somme-Kaserne” (Germany) from a Hutsul of middle years who was living in a displaced persons camp.  He assured me that this tale was known to every Hutsul, young and old.  If this is true I know not, as I have never visited Hutsulshchyna.

  4. 4.I heard this legend from Maria Ivanovna in the town of Voznesens’ke in 1940.  A similar legend is laid out by Tereshenko, VI, p. 104, 1848 edition.

  5. 5.From the village of Dudari, Kaniv region.  After Chub., I. P. 67.

  6. 6.Heard from M.B.

  7. 7.From the Pyryatensky district of Poltavshchyna.  P. Kulish, Zap. O. Yu. R., II, 30.

  8. 8.TN: The doors from the vestibule to the nave.

  9. 9.From the village Bilo-Kurakyne in Slobozhanshchyna, V. V. Yv., 389

(NB: all footnotes from original text except where noted “TN” – translator’s note)

Text © 2008 by Luba Petrusha.  Be advised that the translation on this pages is my work.  It has been put here to share; if you wish to print it out for personal use, or for teaching purposes, please feel free to do so.  If you wish to reproduce it on your website, or in another publication, please ask first. You can contact me via the e-mail link below.

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