The Easter Egg
As most of you should know, the traditional Polish Easter seems to have made its major impact in the U.S. because of one custom. – The Easter Egg. The art of decorating Easter eggs is widespread throughout the whole of Poland, from Rzeszow region and Podhale (Tatra Region), Cracow region, Lowicz district and Kurpie, up to Bialystok region in the north eastern part of the country. The tradition is also kept alive in Opole Silesia, the Western Territories and Gdansk.
Archaelogical digs confirmed that the custom of decorating existed in these parts already in pre-historic times. In Opole, eggs shaped from clay were unearthed from under the remains of ancient dwellings, in Gdansk, eggs made of limestone were found. All of them had various ornaments, either painted or etched with a burin. It is thought that such eggs used to be placed under the threshold of homes in offering to the protective spirits of the household, to brownies and benevolent goblins. The egg was symbolic of the mystery of life, of gestation in the embryo concealed within the yoke. The egg became a symbol of resurrection, of the victory of life over death. That is why eggs are painted at Easter-time, at the passing of Winter and advent of Spring. They are not just something to be eaten, but a time-honored element of the Easter ritual.
There are two kinds of Easter eggs in Poland, known as pisanki and kraszanki. The latter are painted all over in one color only, usually violet, which is the color of church vestments used during Lent and Holy Week, or alternately green, the color symbolic of Spring. Occasionally, they are also colored brown by boiling in an essence of onion-peel, but this has no symbolic significance. Easter eggs painted in one color are hard-boiled, hence, they can be peeled and eaten. They are also used in the Easter game known as walatka. Two people face each other, each holding a kraszanka with the tapering end pointed outwards, knocking each other’s egg till one cracks. The person whose egg cracks first is the loser.
The pisanki serves a decorative purpose only. They are preserved the year round until next Easter. Such Easter eggs are to be found in collections of ethnographic museums all over the world. Pisanki are either hard-boiled, in which case the inside gradually dries up and petrifies, or alternately, they are ‘blown out’ — a tiny hole is made in the shell at each end, a narrow bit of straw is inserted at one end through which the white and yoke are blown out of the shell. Next, various ornamental designs and figures are drawn — written, as the village folk say — on the shell of hard-boiled or blown-out eggs with the tip of a pin dipped in melted wax. Then, different parts of the shell between the wax drawings are painted over in different color plant dyes. When all is ready, the wax is removed and the design stands out beautifully in different colors.
There are three types of batik egg dying done for Easter . . . The Skrobanki egg is brown of tinted, dipped in wax, and the design is gently scratched on the egg. The Malowanki style pertains to dedicated floral patterns painted onto the eggs with tiny brushes. The final technique, Wydmuszki, is paper decorated pictures made out of blown-out eggs.
Ornaments on pisanki in Rzeszow region are composed of floral motifs such as springs of pine, spruce or fir, cockerels, bluebells, sections of apple, also geometrical figures, never the same, always of original design.
In Podhale region — Chocholow village in this area is famous for its pisanki — ornamental motifs on Easter eggs are borrowed from embroidered ornaments on homespun highland trousers, known as parzenice. Other motifs are little shells, like the ones which decorate highland hats, the highland thistle known as dziewieciosiol, and edelweiss.
The Cracow region pisanki can be distinguished by their bright colors and a design in the likeness of wedding ribbons (worn by peasant brides with the Cracow region costume), tied in a bow-knot around the middle.
In Kurpie region, alongside the traditional Eastern blown-out eggs, pisanki are also covered over with beeswax which abounds in that area. Various ornaments are then glued on the shell, such as dyed pieces of water-rush core and bits of cloth in different colors. Pisanki decorated in this manner resemble birds eggs covered in sea-foam and all sorts of algae.
The Easter egg has been the basis of other interesting phenomena . . . . In the rural areas of Poland, myth and myrical went hand-in-hand during the Easter season. Magical powers were attributed to the blessed egg. Egg shells were hung on the vineyard fruit trees to improve the crop and also scattered in corners throughout the home to keep out vermin and frogs. Even the water in which the eggs were boiled was believed to have magical powers and was poured on the threshold of the cattleshed to ward off witches who would come to steal the milk.
Some of the many customs that have been attached to the Easter season are that Easter eggs are a symbol of young life about to be born. The abundance of purple both in the Easter Egg coloring and as the covering for statues in church designate a sign of royalty because the color has been deemed suitable to honor Christ, the King.
And, let’s not forget the Easter rabbit who has won its fame by representing the abundance of life since it can mother many young in a short period of time.
Finally, the Easter egg symbolizes a sharing of good wishes — an exchange of love between friends and family.
. . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .