Holiday Ornaments

The Russian Egg Ornament: Tradition and Art
If you head to Russia around December and happen to take a look at the holiday ornaments for sale, you will probably notice the large amount of painted eggs that are available. Some of these are egg-shaped blocks of wood that have been painted in tempera, others are made out of ceramic or precious metal in the style of the Faberge eggs. The most of these holiday ornaments are actually egg shells that have been hollowed out, cleaned, then painted. But where did this unique Christmas tradition come from?
Today, Christmas eggs are used as holiday ornaments for display on a Christmas trees. The most common are wooden eggs painted with Russian Christmas and winter themes such as snow capped firs, angels, Santa, and the Ice Princess. Russian egg holiday ornaments are usually sold in sets of 6, usually united by an artistic theme or motif. Once these wooden eggs have been painted with tempera, they are covered in a glossy lacquer, then attached to a ribbon to be hung from a tree. But many such holiday ornaments are too elaborate to use as decorations, and are displayed around Christmastime on little stands above the fireplace or on a side table.



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The connection between decorative egg holiday ornaments and the celebration of Christmas isn’t unique to the Russians: many ancient societies (Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese) believed that colored eggs were a way of symbolizing potential, the birth of new life. And long before the celebration of Christmas holiday ornaments, the Russian Orthodox followers were coloring eggs as part of the Easter celebrations to share with their neighbors as a symbol of the mystery of life and being. It is thought that the tradition of coloring eggs red in Russia came from a legend of Mary Magdalene. When the Emperor Tiberius said that Resurrection was as likely as an egg turning red, Mary presented him with one she had dyed red. Since then, the process of dying Easter egg holiday ornaments has become a way to celebrate Jesus’ life and resurrection.

In Russia, the Easter egg holiday ornament tradition has to main types: the mono-colored “kreshenki,” and the opulent “pisanki.” Pisanki are usually dyed or painted 3 or more colored, then decorated with gems or small ribbons. Elaborate stencils are used and small bits of the egg shell are cut out to create a delicate web. When the tradition first started, these eggs were made out of typical Chickens eggs that had been drained and cleaned, but as the centuries moved on, the practice became more elaborate. By the 18th and 19th centuries, these Easter holiday ornaments were especially popular with the royal family, who would use anything from ostrich eggs to gold to create lavish masterworks.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that Russian egg holiday decorations began to be seen as a legitimate art form. Much of the artistry stems from the Imperial affection for porcelain eggs, which were specially ordered by the last few Tsars from the Emperor Porcelain Manufacturer. Today, Russian eggs—both for Easter and for Christmas—are seen as more than mere holiday decorations: they are seem as objects of fine art, and important links to Russia’s past.