While many North Americans grew up dying Easter eggs with runny, pastel food coloring, Eastern Europe has much, much more to offer.
And, they’ve been doing it longer.
The history of pysanky
The ancient Eastern European art of egg decorating called pysanky has been handed down through generations and generations of Ukrainian people. Over 2,000 years ago, people decorated eggs with the belief that doing so would bestow great powers into the egg. Eggs symbolized the release of the earth from the shackles of winter and the coming of spring with its promise of new hope, life, and prosperity. With the advent of Christianity, Easter eggs came to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the promise of eternal life. Legend has it that as long as pysanky are decorated, goodness will prevail over evil throughout the world.
What does ‘pysanky’ mean?
Pysanky comes from the Ukrainian verb писати [pysaty], meaning to write or scribe, as pysanky are traditionally made by drawing meaningful symbols onto an eggshell with beeswax and a stylus. While many Eastern European cultures decorate eggs in a similar way, Ukrainian pysanky are famous throughout the world. A completed Ukrainian pysanka (the singular form of pysanky) may look like one of these, and each egg can mean something different:
If someone sent you an Easter card with the picture below, would you be able to read the message it represents?
No? That’s okay — here’s the scoop. Signs and symbols have been the means of ancient communication for ages. These particular signs, though, are often used in Ukrainian pysanky and mean wishes for good health, fortune, and prosperity. This is how historians know how far back the tradition of pysanka dates — these symbols are really, really old.
So, if you would like to get a little more creative with your Easter eggs this year, give the gift of good fortune by decorating your eggs pysanky-style. To get you started, here are a few examples of other commonly used symbols.
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What is your favorite artistic tradition? Share with us in the comments below!