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Hungarian Pysanky: The Art of Egg Decorating

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I am of Hungarian descent and I have a fascination with the folk art and culture of the Magyars.

Hungarian Pysanky

Hungarian Pysanky

Art of Egg Decorating

Many cultures share this ancient art form, including the Greeks, Czechs, Russians, Romanians, and, perhaps best-known, the Ukrainians. Egg decorating is rooted in pagan symbolism and is often practiced when the winter season becomes spring. Pysanky represents good wishes and blessings, so it's no wonder that performing the craft aligns easily with the Christian celebration of Easter.

In this article, you will learn:

  • Egg decorating methods
  • Different motifs and their meanings
  • A short history of pysanky eggs
Whether in Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, or Ukraine (and many others!) you can find highly decorated eggs during the Easter season. For some it is an integral part of their holiday tradition.

Whether in Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, or Ukraine (and many others!) you can find highly decorated eggs during the Easter season. For some it is an integral part of their holiday tradition.

1. Making a Decorative Egg

It's important to use high-quality eggs when planning pysanky. Smooth-shelled, white, strong eggs are best. You can find high-quality eggs from independent purveyors at farmers' markets or organic food stores. Once you have your eggs, it's best to carefully clean and empty them so they do not smell.

My Oldtime Method of Preparing the Shell

When I was a kid and decorated eggs, my method was similar to the video above but a bit simpler:

  • Using a large darning needle I poked holes on both ends of the egg. One larger, one smaller.
  • I then inserted the needle and broke up the egg.
  • I simply blew the contents out with my mouth.

Not terribly sanitary, but in those days I wasn't too worried and threw away the removed egg insides.

Common Elements On Decorated Eggs

ColorsMotifsMethods

red

flowers

wax resist

purple/blue

animals

painting

green/black

eight-point stars

etching

What Else Do You Need for Pysanky?

In order to color your egg, you'll need what's called "kitska," or a stylus with a reservoir for beeswax. You may want to find different sizes because they will allow you to draw thick or thin lines. There's a kit I like to purchase on Amazon that has everything you need for making pysanky.

When using the pysanky method, dyes are added to the egg from the lightest color to the darkest. Wax is placed on the egg to preserve the color before the next darker color is applied.

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The Scratch Method (or Drapanka)

With the scratching method, the dark color is scratched away to produce two-tone designs.

There is an age-old method of using plants and plant dyes to give the eggs a subtle color. Leaves are steeped in a dye solution, or onion skins are wrapped around the egg, and the plant imparts color. Often onion skins were used for the dye, which gives a warm red-brown color.

After the shell is dyed, a sharp tool such as a needle is used to carve the design into the surface. The color of the undyed eggshell contrasting with the dye makes the design.

2. Symbols and Motifs

Traditionally, Magyars (native Hungarians) exchanged decorated eggs the way we use greeting cards today. Using symbols and symbolic colors would send a message, usually consisting of good wishes for long life or family and personal blessings. A number of pre-Christian symbols included:

  • The Universe: The universe was symbolized by geometric shapes and heavenly bodies. It symbolized the highest forces of the natural world.
  • Spring: Floral patterns and some animals symbolized spring and were symbolic of hope. Spring rituals celebrating new life from winter's death are ancient and even predate dynastic Egypt.
  • Birds: Different birds were symbolic of different things. Hens symbolized fertility, roosters a rich marriage, and storks were symbolic of babies.
  • Bears' Paws: Bears' paws symbolized the protection of the home.

Like their embroidering, the Hungarians originally preferred intricate patterns, but very simple color choices for their Easter eggs. Avacal.org offers an extensive history of pysanky that's worth reading—they include how-tos and more detailed information about symbolism and dyes.

Painted Egg Colors

Dr. István Györffy, in his study on painted eggs, writes:

.. "The Hungarian folk Easter eggs are characterized by tasteful simplicity in a one color pattern which are mostly red. Brown, black, and blue rarely occur. They do not care for the multi-colored eggs. The most beautiful patterns are made ​​in seven Csango villages (Brasov county) and in Szekely."

How Painted Eggs Became an Easter Symbol

The Christian holiday Easter marks the resurrection of Christ from the grave, and this new life for a believer was represented well by the age-old symbolism of the egg.

Eggs Are Symbolic of Rebirth and Eternal Life

Similarly, symbols for concepts found inside this most important event for Christians found their way into designs painted on the eggs:

  • Trinity Symbols and Rounds: Intertwined loops symbolize eternal life.
  • Straight Lines: Dividing lines around the egg symbolized temporal and eternal life.
  • Half Circles: Half circles symbolized a new day or resurrection.

The old motifs came to have new meanings with the spread of Christianity. Layered meanings of these beliefs on the ancient pysanky made this a central custom that carried on, even when the original pagan beliefs were gone.

Motifs In Modern Times

As time progressed, the designs changed from abstract symbols to more recognizable motifs that are common to the painting and Magyar-style embroidery decorations that Hungarians adorn in everyday life. Hearts, leaves, roses, and tulips are among the most popular and familiar to us today.

Most Important Tip: Flawless Egg

A very important tip in making your own, is to choose eggs with no cracks or imperfections in the shell.

Hungarian Easter Eggs

Please leave comments about your experience with egg decorating or collecting. Can you see the similarities and distinctions of the regional styles of egg decorating?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Ilona E

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