SHARON – Carol Novosel stands in the middle of a room on the lower level of St. John’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church and counts loudly backwards from 10. When she reaches one, the doors open.
The tables lining two sides of the long room disappear in seconds as a line, which had already formed outside, of patrons streams in through a door at the foot of the stairs.
“It’s wonderful. The food is wonderful. People come from all around,” Sharon resident Jean Josa says of the Egg Festival, now entering its 35th year. “We couldn’t do it last year because of COVID, so it’s nice that this year we can see people — see faces.”
Faces are especially important to Josa, as she has a face-painting table of her own set up at one end of the room. She applies a bird-like design — in blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag — on the cheek of one of the festival’s younger attendees.
Though not of Ukrainian ancestry herself, Josa — like many people — has been troubled by reports coming out of that embattled Eastern European nation, which is currently suffering through its second invasion by Russian forces under the command of President Vladimir Putin in less than a decade.
“I’m very upset over it,” Josa says. “Carol has friends over there that we’ve sent money to, and I’m going to give a portion of what I make today to Ukraine.”
‘They’re in a nightmare’“I hear from people every day over there,” said Novosel, a local folk artist who started the egg festival over three decades ago. “I’ve visited Ukraine many times.”
She said a Ukranian friend — a former international exchange student in Mercer, now taking shelter with her mother in Poland — has reached out to her with news since the fighting began last month.
“She found herself in the subway with her mother, their house destroyed, in shock,” Novosel says. “We were able to calm her down enough to say, ‘Just move. Get out while you can. Get your mother and get on a train.’”
Another friend uses money sent by young people in America to buy groceries for those still living in Ukraine, according to Novosel.
“He gets in his car and drives an hour and a half to the border every day,” Novosel says.
Novosel describes Ukraine as “the older brother of Russia.”
“We’re like cousins,” Novosel says, “but we are not Russians. We’re European and Asian; we’re where east meets west. We’re unique because of that.”
‘It’s part of my heritage’Novosel learned how to make Ukrainian painted eggs — called Pysanka — from her mother and grandmother when she was 6 years old.
“My eggs have been in books; they’ve been on Jeopardy; it’s my passion,” Novosel says. “It’s a folk art that’s over 2,000 years old. But it’s something that wasn’t shared outside the family and the church.”
That changed in April of 1972, according to Novosel, when Pysanka were featured in National Geographic.
“I truly believe that article resurrected the art,” Novosel says.
Pysanka are created by soaking fresh white eggs in vinegar to pull calcium out of the shell, according to Novosel; then a stylus — called a Kistka, or “egg pen,” in Ukrainian — is used to apply lines of melted wax to the surface of the shell. Places where the wax is applied will retain their original white color even once other shades are applied.
The egg is then dipped in several different shades of food coloring — proceeding from lighter colors to dark — with designs drawn in wax between each, resulting in a tapestry of many colors.
“The more you practice, the more you can create any shade you want,” Novosel says. “And the more you can work with warm colors and cool and not get mud.”
Pysanka were once painted with sun symbols during the spring to bring warm days, according to Novosel, or buried in the field to produce a good crop.
“You felt that first breath of warm air and said, ‘It’s working,’” Novosel says.
Now Novosel hopes to pass the tradition the Pysanka represent on to the next generation — as does her niece, Jill Fulmer, who’s been helping her aunt with the Egg Festival for several years.
“When I was a little girl, I watched my grandpa and my dad help out behind the scenes,” Fulmer says of the festival. “And as new generations take over, I started helping out with advertising and promotion, and working the tables.”
Fulmer, of Hermitage, is trying to teach her son the importance of preserving their family’s Ukrainian heritage and culture.
“Hopefully one day he and his generation will take over,” Fulmer says. “I think culture gets lost a lot in younger generations, but I feel it’s important to carry on traditions and instill that in future generations so it doesn’t get lost.”
That’s part of what makes the Egg Festival so important.
“Festivals like this bring people together,” Fulmer says. “They bring out the best in people, and that’s hard to find these days.”