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How Eastern Europeans Decorate Easter Eggs - Pisanki / Pysanky


Polish Pisanki by Theresa Child

Polish Pisanki by Theresa Child

© 2011 Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
The centuries-old art of Polish pisanki (pee-SAHN-kee) and Ukrainian pysanky is a wax-resist method of decorating Easter eggs, much like batik. The word comes from the verb "to write" -- pisać (PEE sahtch) in Polish and pysaty in Ukrainian -- as the designs are not painted on, but written with 100% pure beeswax. Every Eastern European country has its version.

  • Belarus - pisanka
  • Bulgaria - pisano yaytse
  • Croatia - pisanica
  • Hungary - hímestojás
  • Czechs - kraslice
  • Lithuanians - margutis
  • Poland - pisanki
  • Romania - ouă vopsite, incondeiate or impistrite
  • Serbia - pisanica
  • Slovakia - kraslica
  • Slovenia - pisanica, pirhi or remenke
  • Russia - pysanky
  • Ukraine - pysanky

Eggs are a symbol of spring and rebirth around the world and they have become a symbol of Easter and the Resurrection. In Eastern Europe, decorating eggs during the long, cold winters in anticipation of warmer days and the end of Lent became an art form. The symbols, colors and styles all differ by country and even by region within a country. What remains universal is the drawing or writing on a hard-cooked, raw or blown egg with melted beeswax using a stylus, known variously as pysachok, pysak, pysal'tse, kystka or kistka.

How Pisanki Are Made

Beeswax is heated in a small bowl or jar lid on a stovetop or hot plate, and then scooped up by the stylus as needed. The molten wax is applied to the white egg by rotating the egg, not the hand. The egg is then dyed one color. More wax designs are applied and the egg is dyed another color, and so on. The dye sequence is always light to dark. After the final color, the wax is removed by heating it gently over a candle flame and rubbing off the wax with a cloth or paper towel. The intricate designs and beautiful colors are now revealed.

Other Types of Polish Easter Eggs

  • Pisanki - Eggs that have been decorated with melted wax, then dyed. This goes on several times. The wax is then removed and the intricate patterns are visible.
  • Kraszanki - Solid-color eggs dyed with natural plant materials such as beets, onion skins, and greens.
  • Malowanki - Hand-painted eggs.
  • Drapanki - Solid-color eggs with a design scratched onto the surface after they are dyed.
  • Wyklejanki - Eggs decorated with colored yarn.
  • Nalepianki - Eggs decorated with paper cut-outs or straw.

The Gift of Pisanki

Pisanki are typically made to be given to family and close friends as a symbolic wish for the gift of life. They are hollow so they can be diplayed all year and saved from year to year, ensuring good health and prosperity. The kraszanki or solid-color eggs are made to be eaten. The eggs that have been blessed on Holy Saturday are considered sacred and their shells are never thrown out. Instead, they are buried in the garden or crop fields in hopes of a good harvest. The water used to cook the eggs is also saved to water fruit trees to ensure sweet fruit and wash beehives so the honey will be golden and delicious. At the Święcone, the traditional Polish Easter breakfast after Mass, a blessed egg is shared by the family while exchanging good wishes, and pets and livestock also receive a piece of blessed Easter egg.

See How Theresa Child Creates Easy Pisanki
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