Category Archives: Carpatho-Rusyn

Rusyn Easter Eggs from Slovakia: Psyanky

I remember decorating Easter eggs when I was a child. Many of us likely remember poking the hole in the top and bottom of the egg, blowing the egg out that tiny hole in the bottom (and turning red in the face as we struggled to get the egg through the little hole) and then dipping the eggshell in the messy dye that also turned many fingers into springlike colors.

I was also quite fascinated with one Easter egg that my Nana had for many years – all of my life, at least – that was kept in her china hutch. The beautiful little egg sat in a shot glass and out of the reach of curious children.

That same egg is now in my china hutch, sitting, remarkably, in the same shot glass.

I’m not sure why I was so attracted to this Easter egg – maybe because my little home-dyed eggs never looked anything like this one. I remember asking Nana where she got it and the only answer I received was that she had had it for “many” years.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned about the Carpatho-Rusyn ritual of elaborately decorating Easter eggs.

I even found a book about the skill – and it is a skill, not an amateur play activity – that I have coveted for a long time.

I finally bit the bullet and purchased the least expensive copy I could find – $99.95 with free shipping. I’ve added it to my treasured reference shelf of books on Carpatho-Rusyn history, culture and language.

Rusyn Easter Eggs from Eastern Slovakia by Pavlo Markovych, published in Vienna in 1987 by Wilhelm Braumuller Universitats-Verlagsbuchhandlun GmbH is in English.

The back cover explains a bit about this beautiful Easter tradition and mentions that “specific attention is given to the pysanka eggs from the Presov region of Slovakia, which is the area in which my ancestors lived.

Table of Contents

Preface
Map

Introduction
1. The Historic Pysanka
2. The Names of Pysanky
3. The Origins of Pysanka Ornamentation
4. the Influence of General Ornamental Devices on the Pysanka Ornament
5. The Composition of the Ornament
6. The Structure of Pysanka Motifs
7. The Circulation of Motifs
8. The Stylization of Motifs
9. Pysanka Motifs in Everyday Life and Customs
10. Techniques Used in Painting and Ornamentation of Pysanky
11. Coloring Pysanky
12. The Symbolism of Colors in Folk Art and Folklore
13. Games Played with Pysanky

Notes
Bibliography (with books written in multiple languages)
List of Illustrations (60 pages, many of pysanky in full colors)

This isn’t mean to be a book review, but if this tradition interests you, or you are of Rusyn heritage and want to learn more, Markovych’s book is excellent.

What did I learn about psyanky?

First, historically, Easter egg decorating, unsurprisingly, has been around for centuries. In the Rusyn culture, this folk art tradition needed only eggs from the chicken and plant dyes to decorate them.

Unlike my child’s fun blowing out eggs, pysanky are often hard boiled eggs.

Rusyn psyanky designs are quite intricate and include many motifs from nature – flowers, trees, water, birds, fish, wheat, etc. – which celebrate life. However, ordinary objects found in the home, such as a broom, a ladder and even a house, have been depicted on Easter eggs.

As you can see, my Easter egg is covered in flowers. Given the heavy coating of paint that was used to decorate, I suspect that Nana was given the egg as a gift, made by a Rusyn friend,  sometime during the first half of the 20th century. It’s also possible that a friend or relative brought it back from Udol, Slovakia for Nana.

Interestingly, pysanky were also used to comfort children who died during the Easter season. Beautifully painted eggs were placed in the shape of a wreath around the child’s body in the coffin. The eggs provided two supports for the child – food to eat and something to play with in the next world.

It is also said that only the most beautiful pysanky were given to the deceased child to take with them on their heavenly journey.

How are pysanky decorated?

There are several techniques used to create these beautiful designs. There are non-wax techniques, which involve dyes and scratching designs using tools such as a razor, needle or knife.

Using dye is an ancient technique, but these particular tools have only been used from the 20th century through today.

The second technique, using hot wax, is applied using different types of strokes and applications.

Easter egg decorating materials have modernized through time.

There are many images of pysanky viewable online. It’s fun to look at them and see the huge array of varied colors and styles.

If you’d like to try your hand at decorating pysanky, check out this YouTube tutorial.

The Carpatho-Rusyn Society blog features posts about Easter and the popularity of pysanky.

There are a number of websites that offer pysanky for sale – just do a quick online search.

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

Calling All Cousins: Resources for Carpatho-Rusyn Culture, Genealogy & History Research

I am 50% Carpatho-Rusyn and proud of my heritage. Rusyns, for short, have never had a homeland to call their own. For centuries, they have lived in a wide swath of Eastern Europe that includes southern Poland (those Rusyns call themselves Lemkos), northern Slovakia, part of Ukraine, a piece of Hungary,  and even a small portion of Romania, Serbia and Croatia. They are a Slavic people.

We are a small, but mighty, family and Carpatho-Rusyns are everywhere! Andy Warhol and actress Sandra Dee (the original Gidget – I love that movie!) are probably two of the most famous people of Rusyn heritage.

When I moved to California in 1978, the very first person I met was a young lady who coincidentally shared my Rusyn heritage to the extent that the same priest who married my grandparents baptized her father!

However, even in the genealogy blogging world, there are Rusyns. Lisa Alzo is a fellow Rusyn and I have to admit that I almost fell off my chair a few years ago at a blogger get together at the SCGS Jamboree in Burbank. I met Jenny Hawran, who said her husband was a Carpatho-Rusyn whose family came from Udol, Slovakia – the very same tiny Udol which was home to my Nana’s family!

Before the internet age, it was difficult to find the word “Carpatho-Rusyn” in print. In fact, I had never heard Nana use the term during her lifetime (she passed away in 1985).

By the way, Rusyn is NOT the same as Russian!

If you have ancestral families who lived in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, you may also have Carpatho-Rusyn roots. I haven’t been able to find a public domain map of the area, but if you do a search for an online map, several options will come up.

A quick method to determine whether you might have Rusyn roots is by knowing which religion your family practiced.

If they were Roman Catholic and lived in the villages along the Tatras and Carpathians, it is possible that somewhere along the line, the intermarried with Rusyns. I have Rusyn ancestors who married Roman Catholics from the next village.

The biggest tip off? If they were Greek Catholic (not from Greece!) or Eastern Catholic, today called Byzantine Catholic, it is very, very likely that you have Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry. Rusyns have been Byzantine Catholics for centuries!

How do you get started with genealogical research?

As with any genealogy research, begin with what you know. Document your parents, grandparents and great grandparents in America, as far as you are able.

Rusyns from Europe arrived in America mostly from the mid-1880s until about 1920. Three favorite destinations were New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, where they worked in the mines and factories.

If you don’t know the name of your ancestral town in Europe, be aware that the American parish priest often (not always) recorded the home village of the parents in the baptismal records of the first born generation in America. It is well worth the time to contact local Greek Catholic churches to inquire about baptismal and marriage records.

The single best source for European Rusyn church records is FamilySearch. The church registers for many parishes have been digitized and SOME (not all) of the baptisms have been indexed. Therefore, if you perhaps know the names of, say, your grandfather’s parents, you can try searching to see what hits come up. If there are multiple persons of the same name, born or married about the same time, you can view the church registers yourself to try to determine if you have found an ancestral home.

However, many of the same given names are used over and over. Babies had to be given the names of saints, so the choices were quite limited – and it’s best if you can establish the home village from U.S. church records, family lore or, possibly, passenger lists, if they came through Ellis Island.

Passenger lists are not an option if your ancestors arrrived, like mine did, before Ellis Island opened and instead landed at Castle Garden. The Castle Garden lists are gone.

One further suggestion to identify the European home of your family – Rusyns often settled entire neighborhoods and came from the same small geographic area. If you have identified your family’s parish church, research the history and origins of that parish.

The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Passaic, my grandmother’s parish, was founded by Carpatho-Rusyns from Udol, in today’s Slovakia. That is exactly the village where my great grandfather was born.

There are many resources available now for both learning about Carpatho-Rusyn history and culture and connecting with others.

Here are a few (not all) of the Facebook groups to get you started:

Carpatho-Rusyns Everywhere!
Rusyn Life Yesterday and Today
The Rusyn Group Forum
Lemko Rusyns and Friends
The Lemko Project

Looking for books about Carpatho-Rusyn life?

The Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center in Vermont, a non-profit organization, is easily the largest American repository of books for sale about all things Rusyn.

Their publication list is lengthy, with topics ranging from general histories and pictorial images to Rusyn language books (even down to individual dialects), reference books, Rusyns in America/Europe, poetry and prose, grammars and dictionaries and fiction. They even have a large map identifying all known Rusyn villages!

The C-RCC is an excellent site to visit, whether you are a beginning, intermediate or advanced Rusyn researcher.

Most, but not all, of the books are in English.

A WARNING! There are Rusyn books available on Amazon and a couple of other websites. However, check the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center FIRST and compare prices. The C-RRC is often much cheaper because (1) they are the publishers/sellers of books in new condition and (2) second hand sellers think a relatively rare book is much more valuable than it is. I once found a listing for a Rusyn language book (published by the C-RRC) from a second hand seller listed for several HUNDRED dollars. However, a quick scan of the C-RRC offerings showed the book in stock for $15!

YouTube Offerings:

Last year, the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center sponsored six summer seminars on Carpatho-Rusyn culture. They are available to view for free on YouTube:

Episode 1: Paul Robert Magocsi on the politician Gregory Zhatkovych
Episode 2: Nick Kupensky on the novelist Emil Kubek
Episode 3: Elaine Rusinko on the artists Andy Warhol and Julia Warhola
Episode 4: Pat Krafcik on Carpatho-Rusyn folktales
Episode 5: Maria Silvestri, Mike & Ifetayo Bolds and Bethany Sromoski on growing up Rusyn
Episode 6: Bogdan Horbal on Lemko communities in Europe and America

Subcarpathia
A Brief History of Carpathian-Ruthenia and the Rusyns
Rusyn Folk Songs

Websites (free):

The Carpatho-Rusyns of Pennsylvania
Find Lost Russian && Ukrainian Family by Vera Miller

The Carpathian Connection – focus on Rusyns who settled in Passaic, New Jersey

The Lemko Association

The Carpatho-Rusyn Society

Carpatho-Rusyn Genealogy Website(hasn’t been updated for years, but still some good links and information)

Foundation for East European Family History Studies

It isn’t often that I can say my list of resources is quite comprehensive, but, even today, there are only so many places to find information about Carpatho-Rusyn heritage.

 

Carpatho-Rusyn Heritage: Christmas Traditions

This is the final post in my 2019 series about various aspects of Carpatho-Rusyn history and life. I hope you’ve enjoyed it – I’ve learned more about my heritage as I’ve researched each topic.

We are well into the Christmas season so it is fitting that this month’s topic covers holiday celebrations and traditions in Rusyn life.

Christos Razdajetsja! Christ is born!
Slavite Jeho! Glorify Him!

Rusyns begin preparing for Christmas forty days beforehand, on 15 November, the day after the feast day of St. Philip the Apostle. Fasting and prayers last until Christmas Eve day when the Holy Supper meal is prepared and the Vigil of the Nativity of our Lord begins.

In the weeks before Christmas Eve, animals, homes and people are cleansed in preparation for the birth of Jesus.

The Holy Supper consists of either seven, nine or twelve courses with bread biscuits, mushroom soup, stewed fruits and vegetables, nuts and fish. No meat is served at this meal.

As day turns to night, the first star seen represents the Star of Bethlehem, leading the way to baby Jesus. Village carolers visit each home and when the church bell is rung, everyone walks to church for the service, called the Great Compline.

Families return to church on 25 December for the Christmas Divine Liturgy.

Christmas festivities continue on until the Feast of Theophany on 6 January, called the Epiphany in the Latin rite.

This is a very simplified explanation of the Christmas holiday season, as there are variations among Rusyn peoples.

Here are some links with much greater detail and descriptions than I have provided:

A Carpatho-Rusyn Christmas Tradition – Rusyn-Americans in Pennsylvania

Carpatho-Rusyn Christmas

Carpatho-Rusyn Christmas Eve Dinner – YouTube

Holy Supper / Christmas Eve in the Carpatho-Rusyn Tradition

Rusyn Christmas Customs

Slav Christmas Customs from the Carpathian Mountains