Easter in Ukraine has a second name which is “the Resurrection”. It has been used by Ukrainians for many years, but not all of us know that, actually these are two different holidays, whose history has interlaced and the modern Easter we celebrate in spring appeared.
The origin if this festival goes back to pre-Christian times, when people celebrated the beginning of spring on 22 March. At the same time the Jewish people celebrated the Exodus.
The main Canons and rules of celebrating Easter appeared after the birth of Christ. In 325 the main churches of the world gathered in Nikaia to determine the date of the celebration. They came up with the following: the holiday must take place on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring Equinox. If the date coincides with the date of the Jewish Easter, then the Christian celebration shifts to the next week. People still follow these Canons today.
Before celebrating Easter in Ukraine people have a week full of pre-holiday customs they have to observe.
Everything starts with Pussy-willow/Palm Sunday. People have always been looking forward to this day, on which they gathered around the church and the pope blessed the branches of willow they had brought with them. According to Christian religion, when Jesus was entering Jerusalem 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 pussy-willow.
On this day it is traditional to tap people with a branch of pussy –willow saying “I am not the one who is hitting you, it is the willow”. By doing that, people wish each other good health and happiness.
Clean Thursday is the Thursday before the Easter Sunday. It is the day when people “tell goodbye” to everything old and look forward to meeting something new. It is traditional to clean the house and throw old things away on that day. It is also believed that souls of dead come back to earth on that day and return to Heaven on Sunday the week after the Easter.
Good Friday follows clean Thursday and is the day when people 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 before Easter it is traditional to prepare a basket of products for the blessing on Easter morning.
So what do people put into this basket? There are two traditional symbols of Easter in Ukraine – paskas (Easter bread) and pysankas (painted eggs). These are usually decorated with different ornaments and have lots of varieties. It is believed that if you taste at least one piece of twelve different paskas, your dearest dream will come true.
Apart from paskas and pysankas people put patties, home-made sausage, meat and even special sweet red wine “Kagor” to the Easter basket and take to the church to get a blessing on Easter morning. 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 it is traditional to greet each other saying “Christ is risen.” and answering back “Risen indeed.”
It would be strange, if Easter in Ukraine did not have its own superstitions, which we will gladly tell you about.
- Kissing during Easter days has different meanings. If you kiss at the threshold, you will part with your lover; kissing under the tree will bring you joy; if the crow croaks while you are kissing, you are into tears or a big row. If a girl dreams about kissing, danger awaits her. If you have itching lips, you will definitely be kissing soon.
- There is also a belief that starting with Good Friday and till Easter all evil spirits (demons, witches, werewolves) are very active. So people must be careful, especially at night, if they leave their homes.
- Professional Ukrainian gamblers believed that if they stood the whole Easter service with an ace of spades in the pocket, replying to a pope’s “Christ is risen” like “cards are here”, “aces are here”, they will be lucky in card games all the following year.
- Every peasant tried to catch the bell rope and hit the bell several times at Easter, which meant that it would bring happiness and a good harvest of buckwheat.
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 in Ukraine is considered to be a family holiday, so it is another day when all relatives get together and spend this day as one integrated whole.