Easter just isn’t Easter without decorating eggs. When I was a kid we would spend hours blowing out eggs, complaining regularly about our aching cheeks, before dipping them in a variety of food colouring and vinegar baths. The eggs we ended up with were of a varying level of attractiveness and the dye would take days to wash off of our hands. Quite frankly, they looked more like the dog’s breakfast than anything else, but we loved the process. This was a craft that was undertaken for traditions sake, not because any of us held a particular skill for it.
Some parts of the world, however, take the art of Easter egg decorating considerably more seriously. When we were in Poland this past summer we spent a rainy afternoon exploring the Muzeum Etnograficzne in Kraków, a wonderful little museum just outside of the city centre. As the name would indicate, this is an ethnographic museum that explores Polish culture past and present, endeavoring to be a “centre of reflection and understanding oneself and others.” One of the newest exhibits at the museum explores the history of Easter egg decorating in Poland, a traditional craft that has withstood the test of time.
Quite honestly, to call this a ‘craft’ is an understatement. This is a highly skilled art and the women who undertake it are artists of the highest degree. The steadiness of hand and eye for design that decorating these eggs takes is jaw-dropping and that the majority of eggs that will survive to be marvelled at by future generations will have the artists listed as ‘anonymous’ is unfortunate to say the least.
Poland isn’t the only place where the art of egg decorating survives, it’s a Slavic tradition that is still practiced in countries like Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia to name but a few. In these countries, as in Poland, the techniques and designs vary from region to region, town to town, and family to family, and are passed through the generations from mother to daughter. Egg decorating is a skill that is pretty much exclusive to women, as in its pagan past it was believed that men could put a spell on the eggs and cause bad luck. I think it’s rather nice to think of a group of women sitting around a table chatting to one another and teaching each other these intricate skills.
Although I know my skills are considerably less than the artists who decorated these eggs, I’m still going to give a bit of pisanka a try today. You’ve got to start somewhere right?! I’ve found a short tutorial for beginners that I’m going to try out, fingers crossed there’s no catastrophes! I suppose all I have to lose is an egg-shell and some time. If only I had a Polish grandmother to teach me her skills!
Happy Easter to everyone. I hope you have a cracking good time!