During this Easter season, I’ve been talking a lot about eggs. I’ve written about the significance of eggs during Easter where I explain the history of the egg as a symbol of the resurrection as well as all of the ways that eggs are used in Easter celebrations. Around the world, Christians decorate eggs in various ways, including dyeing and embellishing them with various designs and materials. One of my favorite traditions for decorating eggs is an elaborate wax-resist method called Pysanky. If you Google an image of Pysanky eggs you will be blown away by the intricate designs and layers of vibrant batik dyes. They truly are works of art!
Pysanky eggs are a traditional Slavic craft that dates back to the 10th century. Although Pysanky eggs are made in many areas with Slavic origins like Poland and Croatia, they have been made most famous because of Ukraine. Ukraine’s Pysanky eggs are a national symbol of Ukraine and are famous throughout the world.
Pysanky eggs are considered an early form of writing for the Slavic peoples. The word Pysanka which is the singular of Pysanky comes from the Ukrainian word Pysaty which means “to write.” Each symbol and color has a meaning and is meant to be a message to the loved one that receives the egg. When given a Pysanky egg, the recipient was able to “read” the egg and its meaning. It was almost like a greeting card with messages of “Get Well” or “Wishing You Were Here.”
The wax-resist method used to decorate Pysanky eggs involves special tools and drawing designs on the egg with melted wax, which then acts as a resist against dyes. The egg is then dipped in a series of dyes, with the most intricate and detailed designs requiring multiple dips and layers of wax.
Traditionally, Pysanky eggs and the process of making them held deep spiritual significance. The practice was seen as a form of meditative prayer. In making Pysanky eggs, the withdrawal from the day-to-day world was emphasized. It was a way to connect with God on a deeper level and to pray over the recipient of the eggs.
Originally, the eggs were decorated by the women of the household after the children went to bed. The eggs would take hours to make and were given as gifts or used to decorate the home. Every symbol and every color chosen for the eggs had meaning. Once the eggs were done, they were placed in Easter baskets, taken to church to be blessed by the priest, and then given to loved ones or brought home to be used as decorations.
The making of Pysanky eggs was a beautiful tradition passed from generation to generation until the Communists took power. Joseph Stalin, the head of the Communist Party, wanted to eliminate all religion, so he banned Pysanky eggs and any other symbol or practice of the Christian faith. If the Ukrainians were caught making Pysanky, they would be killed.
Despite the threat to their lives, many Ukrainian people secretly made Pysanky eggs in their homes. They made them at night and they hid in their closets to keep this important practice of their faith alive and to pass it down to the next generation. After Ukraine gained independence in 1991, the tradition of Pysanky egg decorating experienced a resurgence and is now celebrated and cherished as an important cultural tradition.