How Ukrainians Celebrate Easter

Pysanky
Ichunt / Flickr / CC By 2.0

For Ukrainians, who are primarily Orthodox Christians, Easter is the most important religious holiday of the year. Here is how they celebrate this holy holiday.

Holy Week

Ukrainian Orthodox Great Lent is a time of self-denial and abstinence from all meat, poultry, and their byproducts. In some families, eggs, cheese, milk, butter, and even fish are not allowed. Palm Sunday (Shutkova Nedilia) marks the end of Lent. People take pussy willow branches (the earliest-blooming plants) to be blessed in a church in place of palms, which are largely unavailable and expensive in Ukraine. They are brought home and placed behind icons and holy pictures. What follows Palm Sunday are days of religious services and food preparation leading up to Easter Sunday.

Holy Thursday and Good Friday

Before Holy Thursday (Velykyi Chetver or Strasty Khrysta), which commemorates Christ's passion, everything has to be cleaned, gardens planted, field work finished, clothing ready for Sunday Mass, pysanky made, and all the cooking and baking done. After Holy Thursday, no work is performed. Instead, attention is paid to religious services and last-minute touches around the home like putting out embroidered linens and so on.

On Good Friday ( Velykodnia Piatnytsia), the church often sets up a plashchenytsia representing the tomb of Christ for worshippers to pray at. Blessing of the food baskets (Sviachenia) takes place on Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, depending on the customs of the region.

Blessing of the Baskets

Wicker baskets of food are taken to church on Easter morning (in other regions this is done on Holy Saturday). A decorated beeswax candle goes into the basket and is lighted during the blessing in church. Some types of food that you might find in one of these baskets include:

  • Paska: an eggy, round loaf of bread sometimes decorated with religious symbols made out of dough
  • Ukrainian babka: a tall cylindrical loaf often baked in a coffee can like Russian kulich
  • Pysanky: eggs decorated using the wax-resist method
  • Krashanky: colored eggs
  • Shynka: ham
  • Lamb
  • Kovbasa: sausage
  • Krin: horseradish sometimes mixed with grated beets
  • Maslo: butter often in the shape of a lamb
  • Veal loaf
  • Smoked bacon
  • Cheese, often in the form of hrudka or paskha
  • Rye bread
  • Salt
  • Other regional specialties

Easter Sunday - Paska

Church-goers at Easter Sunday Mass greet each other with Христос воскрес! Воістину Воскресе! (Khrystos voskres! Voistynu Voskrese!), which means "Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!" Afterward, the contents of the basket are devoured for breakfast and the candle is placed in the middle of the table and lighted.

The food is left on the table all day for people to nibble as they see fit and to give the women of the house a chance to rest and enjoy the holiday. The basket contents, however, are just a small portion of the delicious spread on the table. Often, holubtsi (stuffed cabbage), mashed potatoes, gravy, pyrohy or varenyky (stuffed dumplings), hot vegetables, cold salads, studenetz (jellied pigs feet) and salchison (headcheese) are also served. Lots of desserts, including syrnyk (cheesecake similar to Polish sernik), poppyseed roll similar to Polish makowiec, meringue tortes, cookies and other decadent delights, are offered.