Discovering Pysanka: 9 Things to Know about Ukrainian Easter Eggs

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Overview of Pysanka and Krashanka

The gorgeous pysanka (plural: pysanky) is a potent symbol of Easter time in Ukraine. However, this artistically decorated egg appeared long before Christians began to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A book we published some time ago, The Story of Pysanka, contains many interesting articles about Ukrainian Easter eggs, including pysanky.

Pysanky and krashanky (singular: ‘krashanka’) are the traditional Easter eggs of Ukraine. Thus, Pysanky are exquisitely decorated using a wax-resist method (batik). Pysanky-makers draw their designs on eggs using a stylus and beeswax. Whereas, Krashanky are usually one-coloured, dyed, hard-boiled eggs that are edible. For more information on krashanky, see “The Magical Dyed Egg – Krashanka” in Traditional Velykden: Ukrainian Easter Recipes.

Christian Easter celebrations successfully incorporated the ancient custom of welcoming spring with decorated eggs. By the way, the same fate befell many other Ukrainian pre-Christian customs. Thus, for Ukrainian Christians, the handcrafted eggs came to symbolise the resurrection of Christ.

Nine things to know about pysanky

  1. Most often, people make pysanky to present them as gifts. Those who receive these charming gifts treasure them with care and affection. Symbolically, they represent the gift of life and eternity.
  2. Pysanky possess magical powers. In particular, they protect from evil and bring prosperity, happiness and good health.
  3. Interestingly, about 100 traditional symbols are used in pysanky ornamentation, which lost their meaning over time. On the other hand, some symbols, like ‘tryhvir’, have been known since the Trypillian culture of Ukraine (4800–3000 BC).
  4. Equally important is the colour in the pysanky’s design, since they have their meaning and magical properties.
  5. Pysanky symbols and colours vary from region to region and village to village.
  6. ’Also, the symbolism of numbers influenced some pysanky designs. For example, one such traditional symbol is called ‘forty triangles’. Here, each triangle or dot represents an aspect of human activity or natural phenomena, such as ploughing, gardening, the sun, moon, stars, earth, water, fire and so on. For more information on the number forty in Ukrainian culture, see our article, The Mysticism of the Number 40.‘
  7. There is a museum dedicated to pysanka in Kolomyia town in western Ukraine. Uniquely, the museum’s main building is designed in the form of a pysanka. It is 14 metres tall and 10 metres in diameter.
  8. The largest pysanka in the world is the Vegreville egg, a sculpture in the town of Vegreville in Alberta, Canada. It weighs about 2.5 tons and is nine metres long.
  9. In addition, several spring festivals dedicated to the pysanka take place in Ukraine. For example, festivals in Kolomyia, and Poltava, draw together pysanka masters and provide many fun activities and an opportunity for visitors to learn about pysanky.

Modern pysanky

In Ukraine, the art of making pysanka survived through the centuries. And, as mentioned above, the making of pysyanky still holds an honoured place in the Easter celebrations of modern Ukrainian families. Curiously, this art was adopted by a religion that does not recognise some aspects of what the pysanka represents.

Pysanka survived many decades of Soviet-Communist rule that promoted Marxist, atheistic and anti-individualistic policies and rejected Ukrainian national traditions. Furthermore, it expressly forbade Easter eggs or anything vaguely related to Easter or generally, religion. Nonetheless, the resilient, distinctive and beautiful ancient traditions of pysanka in Ukraine are thriving today.

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To learn more about pysanky and Ukrainian Easter, see:
What you need to know about Ukrainian Easter recipes” – in one book
10 Facts About Plant Symbols On Pysanka, Easter Egg