How Eastern Europeans Celebrate Easter

Traditions, Customs, and Foods

Easter is the first major holiday of spring and, for many Christians, is considered the holiest day of the year. Eastern Europeans commemorate this holiday with their own traditions, customs, and special recipes. Everything centers around new birth, and eggs, green vegetables, and spring lamb figure prominently in the Eastern European cuisine.

  • 01 of 08

    Bulgarian Easter Traditions

    A small box of Easter Bread
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    As with the rest of the Balkans (but for Croatia), Bulgaria is a largely Orthodox Christian country; thus, religious devotions figure prominently in the Easter holiday. Palm Sunday begins the Holy Week, where some very devout Bulgarians attend church every day, and parishioners bring pussy willows to be blessed since palms are not available. On Holy (Maundy) Thursday, Bulgarians dye eggs—red in particular; the first red egg is a symbol of health and good fortune and is saved for the next Easter.

    Breads are baked the week leading up to Easter, but the most important bread is the braided kozunak, a slightly sweet yeast bread with raisins. On Easter Sunday, Bulgarians enjoy a meal featuring all of the foods that were forbidden during Lent, including lamb, which is often the star of the feast.

  • 02 of 08

    Croatian Easter Traditions

    A giant Croatian Easter egg outside Zagreb cathedral
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    The holiest day of the year in Croatia, Easter observances begin on Palm Sunday and continue throughout Holy Week. In many towns, Croatians commemorate with nightly ceremonies and processions, such as bonfires known as krijeskres, or vuzmenica. In the coastal town of Dalmatia, neighborhood associations conduct reenactments from the Bible and a blessing of the city gates and put on traditional costumes and sing ancient hymns.

    Easter eggs are dyed and decorated, and each region has its own designs. The hard-cooked eggs are also part of a game played at the Easter dinner table; called kockanje or tucanje, players knock their eggs into each other hoping theirs is the last one left unbroken.

    The blessing of the foods in the Easter basket occurs at a late night Mass, and then those foods are enjoyed at a breakfast the next morning. This may include ham, often baked into a bread, roast lamb, and radishes, onions, and horseradish. A pinca, a yeast cake-like bread, is also an important part of the Easter breakfast.

  • 03 of 08

    Czech Easter Traditions

    Fresh sliced houska loaf

    Michael Piazza/Getty Images 

    Because of the communist rule, Easter in the Czech Republic became more about the celebration of spring instead of a religious Christian holiday. Religion is slowly making its way back into the Easter celebration, but it is not as prevalent as in other Eastern European countries.

    Although Easter Sunday is observed, it is Easter Monday that takes precedence, and Sunday is mainly spent preparing for the next day, which is a national holiday. The women decorate eggs while the men make their pomlázky, braided whips made from pussy willow twigs wrapped in colorful ribbon. The pomlázky are part of a very old tradition where, on Easter Monday, boys gently whip the girls on their legs while reciting a rhyme asking for the dyed eggs in return. This playful custom is thought to bring good health and fertility.

    On almost every Czech Easter table you'll find velikonoční nádivka, Czech Easter stuffing. Made into a loaf, this recipe traditionally includes six types of meat, as well as spring herbs.

  • 04 of 08

    Lithuanian Easter Traditions

    Bright, beautifully-decorated Easter eggs
    A. Aleksandravicius / Getty Images

    In Lithuania, Palm Sunday begins Great Week and the celebrations for Easter. One of the country's rituals takes place on Holy Thursday where cleansing of self and home is practiced. Good Friday is a somber day as children are told to be quiet and forbidden to make any noise. On Holy Saturday, Lithuanians attend church to receive blessed fire and water to help cure illness and offer protection from future health issues. They also spend the day decorating eggs and preparing for the dinner on Easter Sunday, which mainly consists of the foods that were forbidden during Lent, such as the national dish of Lithuania, a kugelis, which is a traditional potato pudding.

    In addition to the Easter Bunny, the Easter Granny (Velykė) hides eggs for children to find; if a child has been bad, he or she only gets a single white egg. Lithuanians also have many superstitions on Easter morning, such as the first person to arrive home after Mass will have a successful year.

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  • 05 of 08

    Polish Easter Traditions

    Lamb-shaped cookie
    Stefanie Jost / EyeEm / Getty Images

    After the self-denial of Lent, all the stops are pulled for the glorious celebration of Christ's Resurrection. In Poland, Easter is a time to enjoy all of the foods that are forbidden during those 40 days, and the cooking and baking start on Holy Thursday. Foods for the basket to be blessed as well as what will be served at Easter dinner are prepared ahead of time; this includes hard-cooked eggs, kiełbasa, and chrzan (Polish horseradish) for the basket, as well as a cabbage dish, potato salad, and baked ham for the meal.

    But one of the most important recipes at a Polish Easter table is the lamb-cake, a pound cake made into the shape of a lamb (using a mold) and decorated with frosting.

  • 06 of 08

    Russian Easter Traditions

    Easter Kulich and eggs
    Mike Zubrenkov / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Easter, known as Paskha in Russian, follows the Russian Orthodox Church calendar so it does not always fall at the same time as Roman Catholic or Protestant Easter. It is similar, however, in that the 40 days of Lent precede the holiday and that Holy Week is a time for preparation.

    The house should be cleaned by Clean Thursday when it is time to dye the eggs. On Good Friday, Russians are supposed to fast until the evening, and there is a late service on Saturday that lasts until dawn. Eggs are quite important to the holiday and the custom of exchanging decorated eggs is common.

    One of the most popular Easter foods is kulich, a sweet yeast bread with raisins, nuts, and candied citrus rind. It is baked in either a special pan or a coffee can.

  • 07 of 08

    Serbian Easter Traditions

    Copious red Easter eggs
    tanjica perovic photography / Getty Images

    The Serbian Lent lasts 46 days, which includes the six Sundays during Lent. Many foods are forbidden, including meat, eggs, and dairy. So, Easter is a time for not only religious observation but also an opportunity to enjoy many of the forbidden foods—and in large quantities.

    The festive meal begins with small plates of boiled eggs, smoked meats and cheeses, spreads, and red wine. The dinner that follows is displayed on a specially dressed table, which includes a candelabra with three candles representing the Holy Trinity. The meal often begins with a soup, such as chorba od janjetina (lamb vegetable soup), and then moves onto side dishes of vegetables, salads, breads, and spit-roasted lamb.

    Following church services, the priest blesses the baskets of eggs, which are filled with traditionally dyed eggs using onion skin and flowers. Many later use these eggs to smash into each other to see whose will remain unscathed.

  • 08 of 08

    Ukrainian Easter Traditions

    Painting the Eggs
    Anton Eine / EyeEm / Getty Images

    In Ukraine, Easter is the most solemn and important religious holiday of the year, even surpassing Christmas. Preparations are made weeks in advance and the cooking of ritual foods for the blessed Easter basket begins well before Holy Thursday (after which no work is done), but not a morsel is eaten until Easter morning.

    Holly Week includes the blessing of the pussy willow branch (since palms are not available), as well as religious services and food preparation. On Good Friday, a plashchenytsia for worshippers to pray at is often erected in the church, representing the tomb of Christ. The blessing of the food baskets takes place on Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday.

    On Easter Sunday, church-goers greet each other by saying "Khrystos voskres! Voistynu Voskrese!, which means "Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!" Once home, the food from the basket is enjoyed and left on the table the remainder of the day. Other dishes, such as holubtsi (stuffed cabbage), studenetz (jellied pigs feet), and salchison (headcheese) are served, along with plenty of dessert offerings.