Easter in Ukraine: history and traditions

Celebration of Holy Easter in Ukraine is a joyful holiday, loved by both adults and children. Why is Easter being celebrated? The main Canons and rules of celebrating appeared after the birth of Christ. In 325 AD the main churches of the world gathered to determine the date of the celebration. They came up with the following: the holiday must take place on the first Sunday in spring. If the date is the same with the date of the Jewish celebration, then the Christian one shifts to another date. People still follow these Canons today.

Many people fast before Easter holiday period in Ukraine, avoiding eating many things including meat. Not that easy, isn`t it? Can you do it?

According to Easter old traditions followed in Ukraine from history there is a Willow Sunday. We are looking forward to this day, on which they gathered around the church. According to Christian religion, when Jesus was entering on his donkey, people covered the way in front of him with palm leaves. There are no palms in Ukraine, so we have replaced palm leaves with another plant. Older generation is stricter about following Ukrainian Easter traditions and customs, they share their knowledge about this holiday. So, don`t be surprised if a grandmother blesses you with a willow to wish you happiness, health and prosperity.

Thursday is the period when we “say goodbye” to everything old and look forward to meeting something new. It is traditional to clean the house and throw old things away. It is also believed that souls of dead come back to earth and return to Heaven after. People wake up very early on this day, at around 5 am in the morning to have a bath to wash away everything evil.

“Good Friday” follows “Clean Thursday”, we must not do any hard work, listen to loud music or argue with somebody. It is the day for staying calm and finding harmony inside you.

On Saturday people prepare a basket of products for the Mass in the church.

So what do we put into a box? There are two main Ukrainian symbols: paskas (Easter delicious celebration cakes) and pysankas (Easter egg of Ukraine). They are usually painted in different colours and have lots of varieties. Children love painting them at home. In schools teachers paint eggs with kids and make competitions. There is also a game between them, knocking eggs with the member of the family or a friend before eating, wins the one whose egg wasn`t knocked. Usually women bake paskas at home, the recipes are different though. They boast with their culinary achievements and exchange with each other. When I was a child, my grandmother was kneading dough, putting all the ingredients and by the time we woke up with my sister they were already waiting for us. She let us decorate them. It has been a good custom in many families. If you try such sweet bread in different homes, they all will taste different. As a child I was so used to my grandmother`s style of cooking, I liked only her paskas. That`s why I didn`t want to exchange it with anyone. It is believed, if you taste at least one piece of twelve different paskas, your dearest dream will come true. In all supermarkets you will see Easter bread, beautifully decorated and packed. You can`t resist a temptation to buy one of them if you don`t cook at home.

Apart from paskas and pysankas people put pies, home-made sausages, meat and even special sweet red wine “Kagor” to the basket and take to the church to get a blessing. Actually nowadays everyone brings more and more food with them. After the Mass, we bring everything at home and set a big table full of dishes. However the service starts on the eve and many people stay up all night to be blessed and have a happy year. In the morning people say “Christ is risen”, you should answer back with “Risen indeed.” How to say Christ is risen in Ukrainian? If you decide to celebrate this festive season in our country, you should know Easter greeting in Ukrainian. It will sound like this: Khrystos Voskres! This phrase you are going to hear all day, you should answer “Voistinu Voskres”. You can be able to visit authentic markets where you will find lots of different festive things.

It would be strange, if a holiday didn`t have its own superstitions, which we will gladly share with you.

There is a belief that starting with “Good Friday” all evil spirits (demons, witches, werewolves) are very active. So people must be careful, especially at night, if they leave their homes.

Every peasant tried to catch the bell rope and hit the bell several times, which meant happiness and a good harvest of buckwheat.

Most of the people visit graveyards of their close relatives, bringing different dishes, commemorating dead and sharing with them food. It is a cult and important time of the year, which many Ukrainian citizens observe. Usually they leave some bread, sweets and flowers on the grave.

Not all of these customs and superstitions are still alive nowadays, however there is one that has been and will always stay with us. Easter is a family holiday, so it is another day when all relatives get together. It is a bright and happy festive season.