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Montco Historical Society Presents Ukrainian Easter Eggs

The holiday-themed display at the Historical Society of Montgomery County explores traditional Ukrainian customs.

The Historical Society of Montgomery County (HSMC) has regular exhibits at its headquarters, located at 1654 Dekalb St. in Norristown, which often displays artifacts describing the customs and traditions of residents of Montgomery County.

Now until April 15, during HSMC operating hours, visitors can see exquisitely decorated traditional Ukrainian Easter Eggs.

“We thought that this would be a good display of Ukrainian culture, because we have this large Ukrainian population in the county,” Nancy Sullivan, HSMC archivist, said.

Sullivan explained, that a concentrated population of Ukrainian immigrants had taken residence in Eastern Montgomery County, and also brought with them the Ukrainian Catholic Easter Egg known as “Pysanky.”

“They’re comparable to the Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs,” Barbara Makar, HSMC volunteer, said.

The Pysanky display is on loan from Makar. She explained that her sister, Mary Ann Freeman, created those eggs 40 or 50 years ago when they grew up in upstate Pennsylvania.

Makar said that the decorated eggs were a part of the Ukrainian Catholic tradition of blessing food brought to a church during the weekend of the Easter holiday, where youth would also trade their Pysanky for other decorated eggs in the same way that a Valentine may be traded today.

According to literature accompanying the display, the Pysanky were traditionally made with organic materials, such as onions, horns and seeds for varying colors. Just as the Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs are made with intricate designs, and sometimes include symbolic meaning, the designs on the Ukrainian Easter Eggs may have designs that represent Christian beliefs.

Makar said that the designs are made free-hand, using a special tool called a “kistkas,” which resembles a tattoo artist’s needle. She said that each Pysanky may take up to a month to decorate, and that her sister used to decorate multiple eggs at a time.

“I tried it, but didn’t have the talent,” Makar joked. “I thought it would be interesting to people.”

“They were just beautiful,” Jessica Debraganza, a Norristown resident, said on a recent HSMC.

Debraganza said that she had never been to the HSMC before, but became enamored by the Pysanky when she found the event listing on the Norristown Patch calendar. Accompanying her was her daughter Alexus and niece Tessa Sariego, both of whom attend Norristown Area High School and were on spring break.

The family was all smiles as they admired the craftsmanship and beauty of the Pysanky display.

“I used to dye eggs when I was young,” Alexus said. “I totally want to do this.”

The Historical Society of Montgomery County, located at 1654 DeKalb Street, Norristown, is open Monday & Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Tuesday & Wednesday, 1 p.m. -9 p.m. For more information, call the Society at 610-272-0297 or visit the Norristown Patch Calendar listing.

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