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Saturday, March 24, 2018


By Judy Ann Davis

If you are of Ukraine or Polish ancestry, Easter is the time you marvel at the skills needed to make pysanky eggs. Pysanky –from “pysat,” means “to write,” and these are intricately decorated raw eggs, but now are often wooden ones or eggs with the content (yolk and white portion) removed.

The art of wax-resist egg decoration in Slavic cultures probably dates back to the pre-Christian era. Fragments of colored shells with wax-resist decoration on them were unearthed during the archaeological excavations in Ostrówek, Poland, where remnants of a Slavic settlement from the early Piast Era were found.

In modern times, the art of the pysanka was carried abroad by Ukrainian emigrants to North and South America, where the custom took hold. Ironically, it was banished in the Ukraine by the Soviet regime where it was deemed a religious practice, and it was nearly forgotten. Since Ukrainian Independence in 1991, there has been a rebirth of this folk art in its homeland and a renewal of interest in the preservation of traditional designs as well as research into its symbolism and history.

Today, in the United States, pysanky egg decoration has been transformed into an art form that only those with patience, perseverance, and attention to detail are able to perform.

The artist uses a soft wax, like beeswax, and many colors of dye to create these incredible designs resembling batik. The designs are “written” in hot wax with a pinhead or special stylus called a pysachok or kistka which has a small funnel attached to hold a small amount of liquid wax.

The artist starts with a white egg, moving through the color chart from light hues like yellow to darker ones, adding the waxed design, layer upon layer, until finally the egg is often dipped in black. Then, it’s held close to a candle or heat source. The wax is rubbed off to reveal the entire design.

By tradition, Pysanky eggs, which are decorated with symbols of Easter, life and prosperity, were included in the traditional Polish Easter Basket along with butter to symbolize the good will of Christ, babka (bread) for the bread of life, and kielbasa which symbolizes God’s favor and generosity. Other foods like ham, smoked bacon, salt, and cheese were included. The basket was lined in a white linen cloth that could be drawn over the top of the basket. It was then taken to church to be blessed. A candle was tucked inside the basket to represent Christ as the Light of the World. Sprigs of greens were added to represent spring, new life, and the Resurrection.

With Easter around the corner, I wish everyone a Happy Easter and a basket filled with your favorite goodies. May your life ahead be as colorful and bright as the delightful pysanky eggs!

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  1. Those eggs are beautiful and must take artistic talent. Hero and I were at a museum on Tuesday and they are having a children's event to make these eggs.

    1. I tried this some years ago...and made quite a mess of it. You have to think like an x-ray machine--everything you wax out will be the color underneath the next layer. Wow. If kids are doing it, maybe I need to give it another try. Nah! I don't have THAT much patience. :-)

  2. Those are so beautiful. Thanks for sharing Judy.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. One of my grandmothers could do this. I no longer have the desire to work in such minute detail. Happy Easter!


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