Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How to make pisanki

Making Pisanki

Poles didn't invent the celebratory decoration of eggs, but there's a lot to be said for how the tradition developed on the Slavic territory. The oldest decorated egg specimens found around here come from the 10th century, and they were made by painting a pattern of wax on the shell, then dipping the egg in a dye.

At the end of the post there's a tutorial that shows you how to make Easter eggs using that very technique. But first, let's talk semantics.

There are several types of decorated eggs in our tradition, and they all have their particular names.

Kraszanka (crash-an-kah) is an egg which has simply been dipped in dye.

Pisanka (pee-san-kah) is an egg which has been painted on with wax, and THEN dipped in dye.

Drapanka (drah-pan-kah) is an egg which has been dipped in dye, and then had a pattern scratched out on it.

Oklejanka (oh-clay-an-kah) is an egg which has been covered in a pattern made from pieces of plants, fabric, and wool.

Rysowanka (ree-so-van-kah) is an egg which has been drawn on.

If this is too much to take in, don't worry. Nowadays, you can get away with calling all of these eggs 'pisanki'. Why does it end with i? Because that's the plural of pisanka. Yes, Polish is hard.

Making Pisanki

The symbolism of the egg varies from culture to culture, but it is always powerful. For Slavic Pagans, the egg was generally a portent of new life and good luck. It is said that a meal of eggs was shared as part of one spring ritual, and the crumbled shells were sprinkled on tilled ground to guarantee a good crop. (modern composters will know that this is actually a very good way to nourish the soil)

With the arrival of Christianity, attempts were made to eradicate belief in the egg's magical properties. Well, a two hundred year ban on eating eggs during Easter didn't help much- the Church had to give in and repurpose them as a symbol of the Resurrection.

In Poland, to this day, the custom of sharing eggs at Easter persists. On Easter Monday, before any other food is consumed, a plate of egg slices is passed around. As we eat the eggs, we also exchange kind words and well wishes- much like we do at Christmas with blessed wafers.

114/365: Eggs for Easter

I shot this tutorial with the help of my friendly neighbourhood folklorist Mariza Nawrocka-Teodorczyk (dziękuję!). Decorating eggs using wax and dye is actually quite easy! Have a look for yourselves:


  1. Going out on a linguistic limb here... "anka" = "egg"?

    1. Haha, no. It's a feminine suffix. Egg is 'jajko', and it's neutral. Plural: jajka.