Easter eggs

Pirhi - Slovenian folk art phenomenon

Easter eggs - called "pirhi" in Slovenian - are coloured and decorated hard-boiled eggs or blown-out shells. In different regions of Slovenia they are known as "pisanice, pisanke, remenci or remenke" and are amongst beautifully decorated eggs in Europe.

Traditionally eggs have been an essential part of Slovenian Easter celebrations. They are taken in a basket ("jerbas") of traditional Easter foods to church on Easter Saturday to be blessed and later set out on the table for the Easter meal. Easter eggs were given as gifts from one person to another, distributed as part of the Easter celebration and used in traditional Easter egg games.

The Slovenian historian J.V. Valvasor describes the custom in his work "The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola" (1689). An earlier church record, dated 1393, from the Dominican monastery at Radlje in Slovenia, reports that on Easter Saturday red eggs were distributed to all the nuns of the order.
The egg itself is an ancient symbol of life and fertility. It is an Indo-european symbol of spring, adopted later as a symbol of Christ's resurrection and found wherever Christianity is practised. Coloured eggs are in evidence in ancient China and Egypt. In Persia, the spring holiday was known as "holiday of the red egg". Egg-shells have been found in prehistoric graves; painted goose eggs were placed with the deceased in the grave by the Romans.

In Slovenia there is variety of design and method of decoration of Easter eggs, each region having developed its own style. In Bela Krajina and Prekmurje the eggs are characterised by geometric and stylised designs. They are decorated with lines (straight, broken, undulating, zig-zag), crosses, spirals, triangles, hearts, circles, dots and the sun. Christian symbols are incorporated; the monograms of Mary (M) and Christ (HIS, ISUS HRISTI SALVATOR). In the western regions of Slovenia, Gorenjska and Primorska, the eggs are decorated with naturalistic forms: clover, daisies, grapes, birds, as well as monstrances. Inscriptions are a more recent phenomenon. They may include: Easter greetings, such as "Vesela Aleluja", sayings, verses, and love messages from girls to boys, such as "Iz srca te ljubim, ti pisanko dam".

Nowadays the tradition of egg decoration continues, particularly in Bela Krajina and Prekmurje. These traditional Easter eggs are greatly valued and exhibited as products of Slovenian folk-art. There is interest in reviving this traditional art. Children are encouraged to learn the techniques of egg decoration and considerable excitement is generated during the weeks preceding Easter holiday. A creative approach to decoration is taken in art classes at schools.

Methods of decoration

The Easter egg was originally coloured with natural colours from plants; at first only red and yellow colours were used. The following plants were used; for red, decoction of Brazilian wood, for yellow, saffron or barberry root, for greyish-red, alderwood and cherrytree bark, for black, alder-wood and cherrytree bark, for brown, onion skin leaves. Nowadays chemical colouring is also used. After colouring or decorating the egg, the egg is polished with either the skin from bacon or an oiled cloth. With eggs, which are coloured with at least two colours, the whole process may be repeated at least twice.
There are two basic techniques of colouring and decoration: colouring or drawing a pattern with warmed wax, "batik" technique, and scratching a design with a sharp cutting blade on the coloured egg.
The method of decorating the eggs has varied from region to region. In the regions of Bela Krajina, Prekmurje, Primorska, Benecija, and Notranjska, the eggs are decorated with the use of the "pisalko" (pisalo - pencil). It is a wooden implement, with a hollow on one end to hold the wax.  Wax is placed on the egg to create a design in the process of colouring.    
In the region surrounding Ljubljana, in Gorenjska, and Štajerska, the eggs are decorated with pen and ink. In Dolenjska, Notranjska, Štajerska, and Prekmurje the designs are scratched with a knife. In Škofja Loka, a unique variation of the Easter egg was the baked egg which was formed from dough, made into little loaves; then decorated with gold-leaf and other ornaments.

Easter Egg games

Traditionally, Easter egg games have been played by young and old, and especially enjoyed by children. The games had specific rules.

Game 1:
Cracking the Easter eggs  / Tolčenje pirhov

The game is played between two persons. One holds the egg upright, the other hits the top with his top of the egg - or both of the wider ends are used. The person whose egg is broken, is the loser. The winner collects the broken egg.

Game 2:
Cutting the Easter eggs with coins / Sekanje pirhov s kovanci

This is Notranjska region game. It is played with coins.
The aim is to hit the egg with a coin thrown from an agreed distance, and to sink the coin into the egg.
The players agree on the rules of the game, with the following variations:

  • the coin is to be half-embedded in the egg
  • the coin is to be completely embedded in the egg
  • the coin is to pass through the egg completely
  • The winner collects the egg as the prize.

 

Game 3:
Rolling the Easter eggs / Valjanje ali trkljanje s pirhi

This game was still played in Ljubljana, near the Church of St. Christopher in late nineteenth century. It was the central event of Easter celebrations on Easter Monday.
The players leant a board against a tree-stump. An Easter egg was placed at the foot of the board by one player. The other player rolled his egg down the board aiming to hit the other egg. If successful, he collected the hit egg.

 

Bibliography

Kunaver, Dušica, Pisanica rdeča, Didakta, Radovljica, 1991
Kuret, Niko, Praznično leto Slovencev - prva knjiga, Družina, Ljubljana, 1989