Keeping Tradition Alive With Ukrainian Eggs

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Mitzy Paul is keeping tradition. A cultural tradition that goes back thousands of years, weaving its way through different religions and being kept alive as mothers pass the skills, tools and techniques to their children.

She shows the collection of delicate, detailed and elaborate designs that adorn eggs of all sizes, eggs to which Paul has spent as much as eight hours applying beeswax and dye, creating the individual and unique motifs.

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Mitzy Paul has continued her family's tradition of creating Ukrainian Eggs in preparation for Easter.

A Ukrainian descendent, Paul describes "Ukrainian" as a cultural heritage and tradition. Her eggs are called Ukrainian Eggs. The eggs are a focal point of a springtime tradition celebrated and maintained by Ukrainian people all over the world.

Her grandparents came from middle Europe's Carpathian Mountain area. The two young immigrants met in America at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ohio. Bringing culture and heritage to America, Paul's grandmother passed the traditions to Paul's mother who in turn taught Paul how to decorate the eggs.

"You have to use beeswax, that's what my mother told me to do," she said.

In a cozy studio atop her husband's garage, Paul points to a pair of glasses that belonged to her mother and now hang on the wall, over her shoulder, keeping an eye on Paul.

She talks of the hours spent in her mother's kitchen keeping the custom alive and creating a lifetime of memories to be cherished.

"It's a family tradition. I taught my son and my daughter and now she is teaching my grandchildren," she said.

Paul and her childhood girlfriend still get together in March to make the eggs in preparation for a traditional Easter celebration.

The traditional designs are all geometric and bear many symbols. The egg itself is a symbol of new life to the Ukrainians.

"Everything we do is symbolic," she said.

"I try to keep it traditional, but every so often I get a whim," Paul admits.

"Mom had a fit when I put a saguaro cactus on that goose egg," she said, pointing to a pale yellow goose egg bearing a cactus-green saguaro.

Paul gets her eggs as fresh as possible, preferring to get them straight from the chicken coop whenever she can. She is always looking for a source for goose and duck eggs.

Once she has her eggs, she washes them in clear water, and begins to work. Laying beeswax on with a kiosk tool that resembles a small hammer, Paul first divides the egg in quadrants using basic geometric lines to create bands of different sizes around the egg.

Small symbols representing flowers, wheat, rams' horns and rakes find their way into the intricate pattern. After the initial lines are laid on the egg, it is placed into the dye that resists the wax. Adding as many as five and six layers of wax and dye, Paul has created some fascinating and beautiful eggs.

Only after the egg has been decorated, then, and only then, does Paul blow out the inside.

"I've imploded them and just crushed them," she said shaking her head.

As new generations often do, they add a modern spin to an older tradition, and Paul has found that using a large syringe empties the egg a bit easier than the tradition of blowing them out.

A gift at Easter time, Paul has made the intricately decorated eggs for her husband, her children, her family and friends.

"Whoever has the most eggs keeps the monster in the mountains -- or in other words keeps the evil away," Paul said.

With about seven dozen eggs in her home, Paul's monsters are staying put.

Keeping this custom and passing it along to others lights a spark in Paul's eyes. The past is very important, she said.

"Without knowing who our people were and are, we are nothing."

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