Travel the World Through These Egg Decorating Traditions |

Eggs have been important to humans since we started hunting and gathering. They were a main food staple for early people and they symbolize life, fertility, and rebirth in many cultures to this day. For those like me who grew up in the Southwest, spring celebrations always meant cracking cascarones (confetti eggs) on the heads of friends and family, leaving behind an explosion of color. Many other unique egg decorating traditions have originated all over the world. From Germany and North America to the Ukraine and Japan, there are many methods developed over the centuries that you and the kids can try this spring. You may even create keepsakes to display year after year.

Onion Skin Dye

Although there isn’t much evidence of where egg decorating first started, some of the earliest documentation comes from Pennsylvania Germans in the 1800s. Their method for coloring eggs employed natural plant dyes since manufactured dyes did not yet exist. First, they would hardboil the eggs. Then they would boil dried onion skins in a pot and place the eggs in with them. This method would produce a rich red color that was often seen by Christians as a symbol of Christ’s blood. These red-colored eggs are historically considered the first recorded dyed eggs. They also used other natural resources that would create colors. For example, madder root made a softer red color, hickory bark yielded yellow, and walnut shells produced brown on the white eggs.

Washi Paper

The Japanese traditionally use washi paper to decorate eggs for special occasions. After the Chinese introduced paper, the Japanese employed it with their own unique methods. They started to use the inner bark of native plants like kozo, mitsumata, and gampi. Washi paper was unrivaled and spread to Europe 600 years after the Japanese began producing it. Decorating eggs with washi paper is a unique process that is surprisingly easy. Try these steps to create your own. If you’d like to see a video of the process, click here.

1. Make a small hole on each side of the egg and blow out the contents. Let the egg dry.
2. Cut a 4-inch by 6-inch piece of washi paper.
3. Use a flexible ruler or measuring tape to measure the egg’s width and length.
4. Trace your measurements onto the washi paper.
5. Cut the washi paper to size.
6. On the back side of the sheet of washi paper, determine where the middle of the egg would be and draw a line. Then draw a line evenly above and below that middle line to create a quarter-inch stripe. This is where you will stop cutting.
7. Cut quarter-inch wide strips on each side of the paper, stopping at the line you made on either side so that the middle is uncut and creates a channel. You should have two rows of strips on each side.
8. Cut the tip of each strip into peaks.
9. Mix some paper glue with a little bit of water until the glue is fluid.
10. Apply the glue to the inside of the washi paper and cover it fully.
11. Place the egg at one end of the paper and gently roll the egg to the other side, wrapping the paper around the egg.
12. Smooth down all of the strips to cover the rest of the egg, smoothing out any bumps or creases with more glue. (Tip: the side of your paint brush also works to smooth out bumps.)

Set the egg aside and once it is dry, you can enjoy its beauty!

Wax and Natural Paint (Pysanka)

This unique technique is by far the most intricate of them all. This method is called pysanka in the Ukraine where it originated. It quickly spread to Eurasia and the Americas and has since become more common. The traditional tools are pure beeswax, a kystka — a stylus-like tool made from brass and wood, and plant-based paints to color the eggs. This technique has been preserved for centuries and is still used to this day. It has become modernized since aniline dyes have largely replaced natural dyes and the styluses are now made with modern materials, which makes it easier for anyone to try.

The process starts with emptying the egg by creating a small hole at the top and a slightly larger hole at the bottom of the egg and blowing the contents out. The first layer of design is drawn on the white shell of the egg with the melted beeswax and the stylus. Then the egg is gently rolled in its first layer of paint, traditionally yellow. The portion of the egg that is covered in wax will remain white. After the paint has dried, the melted wax and stylus are used again to draw the next set of designs that you want to remain yellow. The same process is repeated for the color red. The last layer of paint is black. Once the painting is completed, the eggs are left to dry. Then the wax is rubbed off to reveal the completed multicolored design.

This is a method that would be a fun activity to try with friends or the kids this spring.

Confetti Eggs (Cascarones)

Last but not least, my beloved cascarones. This method of egg decorating originated in China and was brought to Spain by Marco Polo and is now very common in American border towns. This technique is one of my favorites mainly because I remember making — and breaking — them myself as a kid. The first step includes emptying the contents of the egg. The hole needs to be large enough to fit confetti inside but not so large the egg breaks. The outside can be decorated either with dye or any other craft materials. Once the eggs are ready, fill them about halfway with colorful confetti (avoid plastic or other items that won’t biodegrade). After they are filled, cut a square of tissue paper big enough to cover the hole. Apply a small amount of glue to the rim of the hole and place the tissue paper on it.

Trying any of these decorating methods is a fun and creative way to celebrate spring with the family this year. You can find the supplies you need at local art supply and grocery stores.

Happy spring!

Written by Olivia Belcher

Originally published on Neighbors magazine | 2021

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