Polish pisanka (plural pisanki) is a common name for an egg (usually that of a chicken, although goose or duck eggs are also used) ornamented using various techniques. Originating as a pagan tradition, pisanki were absorbed by Christianity to become the traditional Easter egg. Pisanki now symbolise the revival of nature and the hope that Christians gain from faith in the resurrection of Jesus.
There are various types of pisanki, based on the technique and preparation used:
The oldest known Polish pisanki date from the 10th century, although it is probable that eggs were decorated by Slavic peoples even earlier.
In the past, only women decorated eggs. Men were not allowed to come inside the house during the process, as it was believed that they could put a spell on the eggs, and cause bad luck.
Until the 12th century, the Catholic church forbade the consumption of eggs during Easter. The church wished to distance itself from the pagan roots of the tradition connected with the cult of the dead, in which the egg played an important role as a symbol of rebirth. This ban was lifted, but it was necessary to offer a special prayer before eating.
Today in Poland, eggs and pisanki are hallowed on Easter Saturday along with the traditional Easter basket. On Easter Sunday, before the ceremonial breakfast, these eggs are exchanged and shared among the family at the table. This is a symbol of friendship, similar to the sharing of the Opłatek (Christmas wafer) on Christmas Eve.