Every Lenten season, Helen Daniluck, an expert egg decorator, spends from 30 minutes to 10 hours elaborately designing and coloring, uncooked white chicken eggs for Easter.
With confident strokes made deft through long experience, she sketches her first design using a pen tipped with beeswax. "The designs and symbols express a message of good will. When (the eggs are) finished, they're given to someone dear to you," she said.
Daniluck, who lives in Silver Spring, uses a Russian method of egg decorating know as batik. "It is the most frequently used method of creating designs on egg shells. Melted beeswax is applied with the traditional writing instrument, a 'kystka,' or stylus, which outlines the design on the egg," she said.
The kystka is dipped into the wax, which has been melted by a candle flame. The wax is then immediately applied to the egg. When the wax dries, the egg is dipped into colored dye. After the dye dries, the outlines are filled in with a brush. Finally, the wax is gently removed with a heated cloth and an unmarred design remains.
A similar craft, Polish egg decorating, is taught at the Smithsonian Institution by Jadwiga Kozielewska of Northwest Washington.
"I use either hard-boiled or raw eggs and paint them using a toothpick and food coloring. When the eggs are completed, I use nail polish to protect the colors. Another method I've used is to scratch a pattern on an egg already dipped in coloring," she said.
Polish and Russian egg decorators use the term "pisanki" to refer to the decorated eggs.
"The very elaborate pisanki are never intended to be eaten," Daniluck said.
"Egg decorating is an old craft whose symbols and colors have meanings that are unchanged through centuries - blue represents good health, red is love, the sun is good fortune and the reindeer represents a healthy life," she said.
"The patterns and colors drawn on the decorated eggs come from old folk customs that originated in Eastern Europe and were handed down from mother to daughter over generations. Many have religious significance.
"For instance, the red Easter egg represents the resurrection of Christ and symbolizes new life for everybody. The game of egg rolling is believed to be symbolic of the stone being removed from Christ's tomb," she said.
The custom of decorating eggs and presenting them as gifts originated in ancient them as gifts originated in ancient times when Persians and Egyptians often dyed eggs in spring colors. Among the first Christians to use colored eggs for Easter were those in Mesopotamia.
One popular Ukrainian folk tale about the origin of decorated Easter eggs was recounted this week by Mrs. Arkady Moiseyev, wife of the pastor of the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas at 3500 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
"It's the story of the Virgin Mary and how during the agony of Christ, she decorated some eggs to offer to Pontius Pilate when pleading for her son's life. As she prepared them, her tears fell on the eggs forming dots of brilliant colors. Today dots are a tradition in pisanki designs," she said.
After 40 days of fasting during Lent for physical and spiritual self-examination.Orthodox Christians in the Russian tradition break the fast by eating a "blessed egg because if represents a new beginning, the spring of life," Daniluck said.
"The chief occupation of every Polish household during Holy Week is preparation of foods for 'swiecone,' the blessing of the Easter feast. Eggs are gathered, they eventually become 'pisanki.' They are blessed and artistically painted in various intricate patterns representing different sections of Poland," she said.
"It's the Polish custom to have a cold meal after Easter Sunday services. This meal is prepared on Holy Saturday, and part of the items are taken to the church for the priest to bless them," said the Rev. Philip Majka, of Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Lake Ridge. He works with the Polish-American community in the Diocese of Arlington.