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19 March 2021 – Pisanki

Pisanki – a Lenten Tradition

Photograph of pisanki - malowianki

A common and very colourful tradition observed in Poland at Easter time is the painting of hard-boiled eggs, or “Pisanki”. The oldest decorated eggs discovered in Poland date back to the 10th century. The pisanki were unearthed during archaeological excavations in Ostrówek. Similar eggs were discovered in numerous other archaeological sites, but the discovery in Ostrówek is the most remarkable, as the archaeologists discovered preserved remains of not only coloured eggshells, but also 7 life-sized ‘egg sculptures’ decorated with stripes in yellow and green colouring. These decorated clay eggs were created in a method similar to the process of making vessels.

The word “pisanka” derives from the verb pisać – to write. Sharing and gifting the pisanki to family and friends was common, with wishes of health and abundance ‘written’ with symbols on the eggshells. The ritual of ‘writing’ on the eggs was performed strictly during Lent. In many regions of Poland, it was a custom reserved only for women. Pisanki could be prepared as early as 3-4 weeks before Easter on wydmuszki (emptied eggshells), but no later than Good Friday. 

The eggs represented the revival of nature and “new life” – today a symbolic reference to Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The motifs painted on pisanki have a deep symbolic meaning, connected to rebirth, fertility, beauty, protection, and sun symbolism (vitality). The process of painting and decorating pisanki is quite an intricate one. Today there are many variations including: 

PISANKI | word derived from verb ‘pisać’ (to write / in old-Polish also: to draw)

The pisanki are created by drawing on the eggs with the melted wax and then dipping them into dyes. This method is generally known as batik (a method of dyeing textiles). Various tools were used for applying the wax on the eggs, such as pins, needles, penknives (koziki), simple straws and pieces of wood.

KRASZANKI | word derived from verb ‘krasić’ (to decorate / to dye / to beautify)

These eggs are solid in colour, and they are usually dyed with the use of natural dyes. These eggs were popular in the region of Pomorze (Pomerania). Many regions of Poland prepare kraszanki by boiling the eggs in onion peels creating a deep reddish-brown colour.

DRAPANKI | word derived from verb ‘drapać’ (to scratch)

These pisanki are created with the use of a sharp tool: the eggs are dyed like kraszanki and then the coloured surface is delicately scratched off, revealing the white colour of the eggshell. Drapanki can have detailed, lace-like ornamental designs depicted on them. 

MALOWANKI | word derived from “malować” (to paint)

These eggs are decorated with paints, very often on natural (undyed) eggshells. This method is the most popular. Designs with traditional geometrical shapes and floral patterns are often depicted on Malowanki. 

NALEPIANKI | word derived from verb ‘nalepiać’ (to stick on / to glue on)

This method is particularly popular in Łowicz, some parts of Kraków, and other regions where wycinanki (papercut arts) are a common tradition. This method could be compared to decoupage, but authentic nalepianki are made with multiple layers of precisely cut pieces of paper glued one on the top of another, leaving the natural colour of the eggshells between the gaps. Originally natural materials like thin pieces of straw or dried leaves, herbs and flower petals were used. 

OKLEJANKI | word derived from verb ‘oklejać ‘(to cover or overlay / to tape over or around)

This is a very old method of covering the eggs completely with the use of various rather thicker materials. Originally dried herbs, flowers, various types of bulrushes, straw or parts of material were used. Nowadays glossy paper, fabric, threads, wool, beads or crêpe paper are commonly used. 

DZIERGANKI | word derived from verb ‘dziergać’ (to crochet)

These are eggs covered in tight knitted pouches. 

AŻURKI | word derived from noun ‘ażur’ / adjective ‘ażurowy’ (an openwork texture)

This is a modern technique by which eggs are perforated from wydmuszki (emptied eggshells).