The Fascinating History Behind Hand-Painted Ukrainian Easter Eggs

Learn the history behind this centuries-old tradition.

Growing up, my grandma would put out intricately decorated eggs each Easter, but it wasn't until this year that I learned the story behind them. She displays pysanky eggs (pronounced pie-san-kee), which are a form of traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs.

The eggs are typically decorated with bright colors and geometric patterns that sometimes also feature Christian symbols of Easter. The tradition of decorating these Ukrainian Easter eggs dates back centuries: In pagan times, the eggs were believed to have powers that would bring fertility and good harvests.

Traditionally, only women were allowed to decorate the eggs; men weren't even allowed to be in the same room or house while they were being decorated. The women would use natural dyes (here are 12 ways to make natural egg dye if you want to make your own) to decorate the eggs. When given as a gift, the intricately detailed eggs symbolized giving others the good fortune they carried.

colorful painted wood eggs
Cathy Scola / Getty Images

The Ukrainian word pysanky means "to write," which is fitting because the eggs are hand-drawn and painted. Typically the artist uses a pencil to section the egg into a grid, and then draws on a detailed pattern or design. Then, each pencil line is traced over with a thin line of beeswax, then layered with dye. It's not an easy process, which makes me the end results even more incredible.

And while the tradition started as an ancient art form, it's still popular today. You can learn to make your own at home (here's a tutorial from Martha Stewart), or purchase a set of painted pysanky eggs ($32 for six, Etsy) from an artist on Etsy.

If you're looking for inspiration, there are almost 10,000 posts under #pysankyeggs on Instagram, and each image is more colorful and intricate than the last. We've rounded up a few of our favorite egg designs to inspire you this Easter.

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Blue and White Eggs

While the Ukrainian eggs can contain multiple colors in each design, monotone eggs are the most common (and traditional) design. Justina Uram-Mubangu, who decorates pysanky eggs as a way to celebrate Lent, created these gorgeous blue and green designs.

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One-of-a-Kind Design

Because they're hand-made, no two pysanky eggs are alike! Artist Anastassia Cassady makes and sells batches of the decorated eggs each Easter, and we're swooning over her intricate designs.

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Geometric Swan Egg

The pysanky style can be created on real eggs or faux eggs (wooden eggs are the most popular choice for eggs that will be displayed year after year). Artist Christina Deutsch created this intricate design on a swan egg.

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