Masterpieces of miniature writing: the most interesting facts about Ukrainian pysanka


A pysanka, Ukrainian type of Easter eggs, is called a phenomenon of Ukrainian culture, a masterpiece of miniature writing and a symbol of Ukrainian identity. The pysanka is a unique Easter tradition of our ancestors that dates back to ancient times.

The tradition has continued to revive since Ukraine gained its independence. Every year, before Easter, women-keepers write pysankas. We are sincerely pleased that one of the most famous craftswomen in Ukraine, Tetyana Konoval, author and editor of books on pysankas, teacher and creator of real masterpieces, told us about the history, symbolism, traditions of pysanka and pysanka writing, and even shared games and a master class on pysanka writing. 

Pysanka writing has always been a sacred act. Before this ritual, you can't quarrel, argue, or think about bad things. It was believed that the pysanka could lose its magical power due to the «evil eye», so pysankers (Pysanka writers) waited for the evening when it would be quiet, and then they would paint pysankas, sometimes until late at night. At this time, no one else would come and harm the mysterious writing. People say: «It's time for the children to sleep, and for us to make pysanky» (pysanky is a pysanka in plural).

What kinds of pysankas are there?

Folk pysanka writing is widespread throughout Ukraine. There are traditional and non-traditional pysankas. 

Traditional ones are made of real chicken eggs, using various techniques of wax writing. In some areas, the technique of dripping wax from a small candle onto an egg (kapanky) is common. In other areas, there is a technique of scratching the painted egg with a sharp object (shkrybanka). People also make pechyatankas (wax-covered eggs decorated with beads). Recently, the technique of etching has become popular. Many craftsmen write pysankas with a white background. Of course, it is worth mentioning the painting in one color, which is typical for the whole of Ukraine (krashanky). 

History and symbolism of pysankas

After the introduction of Christianity as the official state religion in Ukraine-Rus', ancient holidays began to coincide with the new Christian ones. Unable to eradicate the pagan cult of the pysanka as a sign of the sun and the renewal of life from the folk traditions of centuries-old traditions, the church introduced it into the celebration of Easter as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ, and the complex system of magical signs was reworked into Christian symbolism. 

Thus, over time, the symbols acquired new meanings that were able to displace the old ones or coexist with them. This superimposition of meanings-like the layering of different cultures-makes a sign polysemantic, making it difficult to read it specifically.

Ancient symbolism is passed down from generation to generation. Similar compositions are found in different regions of Ukraine. The variety of pysanka symbols reflects regional peculiarities. The most common pictorial elements allow us to classify pysankas motifs into large groups.

Symbols of the Sun

The sun is the source of light, warmth, and life, the oldest symbol of pysankas, masculine energy, and the beginning of life. The most similar image to the sun is a circle: a circle with simple, wavy, or swirling rays, or surrounded by dots. The eight-pointed star, which also symbolizes the sun, is the most common pysanka symbol. Another sign symbolizing the sun is the swastika. It brings goodness and happiness. The trygvert (three-quartered, three-headed, three-legged), which is one of the oldest forms of depicting the sun on pysankas, is also found in the art of Trypillian culture, symbolizes various trinities: birth, life, and death; air, fire, and water.

It was believed that a pysanka decorated with sun symbols had miraculous powers. It protects people from illness and misfortune.

Symbols of water

The infinity, meanders, and waves signify repetition or eternity. This sign originates from Trypillian culture. If the infinite line is drawn vertically, it is a good sign, and it was considered a guardian of the home. An endless line across the whole egg is a «gypsy road». It was believed that the devil would wander along it forever, and therefore not harm good people. The spiral signifies the development of life on earth. The painting of the infinity is considered to be a high skill of the pysanker. Water is the feminine energy, motherhood. Without water and fire, as without mom and dad, there will be no life on earth.

Symbols of plants

Pysankas depict leaves, flowers, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and whole plants in a stylized way. One of the most common plant symbols is a flowering plant in a flowerpot, symbolizing the tree of life. 

An oak leaf stands for strength, courage, power, and authority. 

Cherries and viburnum are symbols of maidenly beauty, love and happiness.

The pine tree is a favorite drawing of the Hutsuls, symbolizing longevity,

eternal youth, and the annual revival of vegetation.

Flowers are symbols of children, grapes — wisdom and immortality.

Apple trees and apples signify fertility, love, knowledge, and wisdom. 

Stylized beans, wheat, cucumbers, peas, etc. are also depicted on pysankas. Pysanky decorated with plant symbols have the power to help plants grow and mature, bring a rich harvest and prosperity.

Animal symbols

Animal symbols have a double meaning: that the owner of the pysanka has such good qualities of the animal as health, strength, and endurance, and that his pets are healthy and fertile. Animal forms are depicted schematically and abstractly. Sometimes only parts of the animal's body are drawn to symbolize the whole animal: hare ears, duck necks, chicken legs, wolf teeth, ram horns. Deer, horses, fish, and birds are painted in their entirety. 

The oldest animal symbols are birds. As heralds of spring, they symbolize the renewal of life and nature. Even insects have a place in pysanka symbolism: bees, butterflies, bugs, spiders. The bee symbolizes sincere purity. The fish brings health, it is an ancient symbol of life and death, and with the advent of Christianity, it symbolizes Jesus Christ himself.

Colors in Pysanka writing

They are also very important.

Red is a symbol of life and health. Yellow and orange symbolize the sun, bread, and joy. Blue and yellow represent the sky and water, which give strength and fortitude. Green is a symbol of nature, vegetation, youth, and longevity. Brown and black symbolize the earth. White is a pure soul.


In the past, pysanka dyes were made from natural dyes using various plants and seeds. They were gathered in advance (in summer and autumn), blessed in churches, and had them ready before Easter. Yellow paint was made from twigs or bark of a wild apple tree; green paint was made from snowdrops, black sunflower seeds, and periwinkle leaves; red paint was rarely made at home from deer antler or sandalwood: brown paint was made from alder buds, hazel, oak bark, and horse chestnut leaves; black paint was made from oak ink nuts. 

Modern pysanky makers buy ready-made dyes, but they don't forget the ancient recipes for making vegetable dyes either.

Traditions of using pysankas

Ukrainians believed that an egg is not only a source of life, fertility, and wealth, but also a protective agent against all kinds of natural disasters. That's why pysankas and krashankas blessed for Easter gain additional power and become amulets throughout the year from Easter to Easter.  

Pysanky-vydutky (blown pysankas) were used to decorate the house: they were hung under icons and pigeons were made from pysanky. The tail and wings were attached to the egg with paper, and the head was made of wax or dough.

Pysankas were used to congratulate people on Easter. On the first holidays, people had a pysanka with them. There was a tradition of giving pysankas to whom: children were given pysankas with light colors, boys and girls were given pysankas with red backgrounds and sun signs,

hosts were given «sorokoklynky» (wedge-shaped pattern on pysanka) and «spirals». Elderly people were given pysankas with a dark background.

In the past, during Easter youth games, boys would catch girls near the church and take their headscarves, and girls would exchange them for pysanky. Pysankas were also used to pay off water dousing. It was forbidden to give a boy a pysanka openly, but if a girl did so, she dreamed that the boy would woo her. Older people would go to the graves to paschal greet the dead — they would break a boiled krashanka on a cross and say: «Christ is Risen!», then they would bury it in the grave or crumble it on the grave with the belief that relatives would come in the form of birds and eat everything.

Pysanka protected not only people but also domestic animals. To keep the cattle healthy, the owner would run an egg over the back of each animal, drawing a cross with the words «Christ is Risen!».

Then he would give an egg to the cattle to feed. Sometimes pysankas-vydutky were hung in the barn to protect the animals. The consecrated pysanka was buried in the garden, hung on the branches of fruit trees, and asked the Almighty for a good harvest.

On the holiday, they would have fun with krashankas. 

The game «Ladybug»

People stand in a circle and put an egg on the ground. They turn around and take 10 steps in different directions. Then they have to walk this distance with their eyes closed to find their pysanka. If you get «lost», you have to give your krashanka away.

The game «Skating Rink»

Eggs are rolled from an inclined place, trying to hit someone else's krashanka by knocking it over. If you hit it, you take the opponent’s krashanka. If you don't, you have to give yours.

Game «Smash the eggs»

You have to hold the krashanka upside down and hit the other one on the back side, whose krashanka breaks on both sides is the loser and gives the egg to the winner.

 The sequence of work on Pysankas 

The traditional wax technique using a pysachok is widespread.

To make the pysanka multicolored, the corresponding colored elements are gradually covered with wax, keeping the sequence of colors from light to dark.

  1. Apply a pattern with wax on a white egg
  2. Write the pysanka in the first lightest color
  3. Cover the first color with wax
  4. Write in the second color
  5. Cover the second color with wax
  6. Write the pysanka in the darkest of the three colors
  7. Remove the wax

Here you can see how pysanka is written:

Take the basic course «Pysanky UA» and get a CERTIFICATE

You can find more interesting and useful information about pysanky on the YouTube channel and read Tetyana Konoval's blog.


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