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Sunday, 21 March 2010

Pisanica - Croatian Easter Eggs & Other Pre-Christian Traditions

I was doing some shopping the other day and it suddenly hit me just how many varieties of coloured and chocolate eggs and bunnies and chicks et al, are found at all the stores and checkout aisles.  "Probably not many people know that Croatians have a long history of of colouring eggs" I thought. Nothing new to us at all really. It's a tradition that we call 'Pisanica', which goes back to long before the tradition was being done on this side of the pond...and then much further back before any kinds of eggs became associated with the holiday at all. (Sort of like how some people erroneously think Croatia/Croatians are a fairly recent arrival on the history scene. Au contraire and nothing could be further from the truth). The Croatian name, people, nation and history goes far very back as well. (See Here) We now know that the ancestors of the early Croats were eating eggs in Europe 4000 years ago, and so they were most likely painting them too. Where there are eggs and paint, there are probably pisanica. (See The ancestors of the Slavs could have been in Europe 4 thousand years ago) There's more info about this topic at the links or if you Google around.....

Traditional Croatian Easter eggs in Croatia/Pisanica.

Well, it's that time of year again. Spring is officially here, the days will start to become longer and Easter will be just around the corner. (The Spring Equinox actually started just yesterday) This post is mainly concerned with the long Croatian Pr-Christian tradition  of colouring and painting Easter Eggs. (ie: Pagan influenced from the times before Christianity when early Croats had a variety of ancient gods, goddesses, mystical beings and spirits inhabiting the forests and lakes) It's a tradition that is present in other Slavic countries as well, and has even found it's way to other cultures even today. This post here is sort of a continuation of an earlier post I did concerning Slavic Mythology, traditions, folklore and legends. If you find this topic interesting, then there you will find much more information on other Croatian traditions, mythology, legends and folk customs. You can read it HERE.

Footage of giant Pisanica in Zagreb. You can find many similar scenes in many other locations.

Anyway, "Pisanica" which is a common and popular tradition among many Croatians and Slavic peoples is a big part of Easter celebrations. It's popularity comes from our Pagan (ie: Pre-Christian) roots which was so popular that it was incorporated into the later Christian religion, much like other Pagan customs and beliefs into other Christian holidays.  I don't think there would be any way that this Pagan custom could ever be abolished by religious authorities. That would be tantamount to abolishing the drinking of Sljivovica, Pivo, Vino or the eating of pork and shrimp. (pečena svinjetina and škampi. Not gonna happen)  It's pretty cool that this very old custom is still around to this day and doesn't seem to be going away any time soon, but rather is more popular as a part of the season every year.

Years ago these Jehova's Witness types, (or was it Mormons, or Pentecostal holy rollers?..I forget, there's so many of these groups and people around, some sort of fundamentalist types anyway who probably watch those strange suited and toupée'd guru leader televangelist programs)...he told me how people who incorporate Easter Eggs, Bunnies, Christmas trees, mistletoe, lights and decorations etc, into the holidays are going to hell for continuing Pagan customs. He was adamant that they're lost and in cahoots with Satan bla bla bla. In that instance him and his agreeing cohorts were more concerned about eggs, trees, bunnies and mistletoe than the crackheads and other very questionable types just a stones throw away. Weird)  Anyway, below is some very basic basic background information on Pisanica, and it's relation to Croatian and Slavic history. I've also added some information about how one can make some basic Easter Eggs, if one feels so inclined, at home using very natural ingredients and simple methods that the early Croats would have used, probably something the kids would enjoy.

A giant handprinted Easter egg painted with Croatian naïve art scenes in downtown Zagreb. 



Pisanica is a decorated Croatian Easter egg that comes from an old Slavic custom dating back to Pre-Christian times. Even clay eggs have been found in some of the earliest Croatian graves after their migrations to today's areas.(see  Later, during Easter, eggs would be painted with bright colors, and would be given as gifts, especially to young children or a significant other. Before paint became common, villagers would have to use whatever resources they had available around them to make the dyes and paints themselves. The most common colour for eggs was red, due to the abundance of red beets and other vegetables. In the Međimurje area, soot would often be mixed with oak to make a dark brown color. Green plants would be used for green dye. The word 'pisanica' is derived from the Croatian word that means "writing." The most common phrase put on pisanicas is Happy Easter, or 'Sretan Uskrs' in Croatian. Other common decorations are doves, crosses, flowers, traditional designs, and other slogans wishing health and happiness.

Pisanica in Zagreb.

Pisanica in the town of Koprivnica in northern Croatia.

Town of Koprivnica. Images:

Giant pisanica in the town of Koprivnica.

A giant Croatian handpainted Pisanica in Prague, Czech Republic. Image:

Croatian handpainted giant Pisanica in Vienna. Images: and

A giant handpainted Croatian Easter egg (Pisanica) in Pécs, Hungary. Image:

Croatian Pisanica even in Bruxelles, Belgium. Photo:

The day before Easter, Roman Catholics and other Christians go to a late night mass carrying a basket of traditional food (including bread, cheese, and eggs (either pisanica or regular eggs). During the mass, the priests blesses the food, which are kept for the next morning to eat.

 'Uskršnja košarica' or Easter basket, traditionally consisting of Pisanica, Easter Ham (another traditional food item signifying good luck, and a custom that also connects to the times of the ancient pagan Croats), other basic meats, vegetables and of course fresh Croatian bread and rolls. Typical simple rural folk customs around Easter that hasn't changed much in centuries to welcome the new vernal equinox. (I'm not going to get into the various Easter dinner dishes later at home which is a whole other topic)

The tradition and symbology of Pisanica also connects with the Easter Hare/Rabbit, both going back many centuries to Pre-Christian times when the early Croatian tribes were still pagans in antiquity. (long before the discovery of cocoa beans in South America and the later invention of chocolate and hydrogenated vegetable oils and lecithin rabbits and eggs). Both being fertility symbols and connected to rebirth and the welcoming of the vernal equinox/spring, the Easter Hare/Rabbit eventually took on the role of a Santa Claus that is common today. The custom was first officially recorded in Georg Franck von Franckenau's De ovis paschalibus (About Easter Eggs) in 1682, referring to a German tradition of an Easter Hare bringing Easter eggs for the children. For these reasons it's the Easter Hare/Rabbit and not a chicken that arrives handing out Easter eggs to welcome the spring and new season. Interestingly, Easter is calculated annually according to the vernal equinox and based on lunar phases, specifically around the appearance of the New Moon. Just as the ancient pagan Croatian tribes also celebrated their feasts based on the vernal equinox and New Moon, today they also have their Easter eggs and other related symbologies/traditions from antiquity.

On Easter day, there is a traditional game played in which at least two people choose an egg and hold them vertically while one person lightly taps the end of the other egg with their end, to see whose will crack. Whosever egg cracks must choose another and then tap the egg of the other persons, and they continue until all the eggs have been used and cracked but the last one. Whoever holds the strongest egg in the end which has not been cracked, wins.

A display of children's Pisanica in the town of Lepoglava, Croatia in 2011

Croatian Pisanica. Image:


The tradition of egg decoration in Slavic cultures originated in pagan times, and was transformed by the process of religious syncretism into the Christian Easter egg. Nevertheless, these decorated eggs have retained much of their pagan symbolism.

Many Slavic ethnic groups, including the Bulgarians (писано яйце, pisano yaytse), Croats (pisanica), Croats in BiH (pisanica), Czechs (kraslice), Poles (pisanka), Slovaks (kraslica), Slovenes (pisanica or pirh), and Ukrainians (писанка, pysanka), decorate eggs for Easter. Many of the names derive from the Slavic root 'pisa/pisati' which is etymologically connected to the word for 'writing'. This is an Eastern European tradition also, since Romanians, a Latin ethnic group, have it too (ouă încondeiate).

Giant Pisanica in Croatia.

Children painting Pisanice in the eastern Croatian town of Vinkovci. Source:

Making Pisanica the old fashioned way with common garden ingredients, see photo at bottom.

Just so there's no confusion, (because many people really are confused about this and many other topics I found out), the above image is from "Српски филм" (A Serbian Film) which highlights parts of Serbian culture Easter tradition. However, their tradition of newborn anal sex with newborn babies is part of their Serb church and Serb bread celebrations, and actually has no connection with Croatian or other Slavic languages speaking peoples history or traditions, that's important to know These days this Easter custom is only popular in Serbia and late night at some downtown city alleyways on this side of the pond. (Just supplementary information for the benefit of the reader)

Raising funds for sick children by selling Pisanica in the coastal town of Šibenik. Images:

Another humanitarian fund raising event in the town of Šibenik using Pisanice. Images:

The popularity of handpainted pisanice has moved on over the years from using real eggs to even eggs made of different materials and different sizes. Above photo from an exhibition of over 150 different handpainted eggs.

A typical Easter egg hunt in Croatia scene. Related:

The pattern is often applied to an egg by the process of wax-resist, similar to batik. A stylus is used to apply hot wax to the shell of an egg, which is placed in a series of dye baths. The wax seals the dye into the egg; the colors and pattern are revealed when the wax is removed (by melting it off) at the end.

Croatian postcard from 1938 portraying Croatian women in national folk costumes and the old tradition of making pisanica using coloured yarn. Image:

Another Croatian Easter card from the 19th century featuring Pisanice.

Other techniques include "drop-pull" eggs, a variation on batik which uses a simple pin head to apply wax; a "scratch" technique, where dye is applied to an egg and then patterns scratched onto the shell; painted eggs, where the shells are painted using a brush; and various versions of appliqué, where items (straw, paper, beads, sequins) are glued to the shell of an egg.

While decorated eggs of various Slavic nations have much in common, national traditions vary. Centuries ago in Europe, the rabbit also became associated with Easter Eggs. Being seen as a fertility symbol also, much like eggs, he eventually became the 'Easter Bunny' that we see today. Together they are a symbol of Spring and rebirth. The date of Easter is not fixed on a certain calendar date, but is actually instead governed by the phases of the moon –  a lunar celebration much like many important events in Pre-Christian and Pagan times. (The first full moon after the Spring Equinox to be exact)


Traditional Easter Recipes For The Holidays 

We bring you traditional Croatian recipes for the Easter holidays, which are current despite the modern age crunch.

After the introduction of purchasing colour for Easter eggs appeared, interest for the old ways of decorating eggs, which included natural dyes from the garden and market, seems to have disappeared. Leave the chemicals behind and embrace blueberries and onion peel.

We bring you several traditional recipes anent Easter. Therefore, if you would like to make your family happy, get the necessary ingredients and pick up the ladle. If you follow these recipes, they will be as good as granny`s. We even found a great way how to prepare Easter eggs without any hassle, of course, keeping tradition in mind.

Traditional naturally coloured Pisanica/Easter eggs in the Istra region of Croatia. Image/article:

Go to the garden for some blueberries, onion and spinach

Our advice is to leave chemicals from factories behind. Eggshells can become pink if you use beetroot; red cabbage and blueberries will colour them blue; red onion peel will provide brown or red decorations. If you want to make your eggs orange, reach for yellow onions; spinach will paint them green, while lemon zest and orange will give them a mild, yellow touch. Juice of darker grapes will paint the eggs soft purple.

If you have a problem with mono-coloured eggs, we have a solution for this as well. Strap a cloverleaf, or any other, on an egg with a rubber band – this will leave a motive on the shell.

Before you start colouring, wash the eggs and lay them down in a pot. Be careful to have only one layer of eggs and cover them in water. Before the coloring process starts, you can regulate the colour shade. If you add two teaspoons of vinegar per litre, you will get darker shades. Add just half a cup for softer tones.

Heat up the eggs, water and ingredients, then reduce the temperature and let everything cook for at least ten minutes. The longer you leave it on, the colour will be more emphasized. If you want intense colours, then pour out the water from the pot once it cools down and leave the eggs in the fridge for a few hours.

Some very simple and age old ways to make 'pisanice'. Image:

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