A brief history of Easter in Ukraine
The word for ‘Easter’ in Ukrainian is Velykden’, which translates to ‘Great Day’, and it is one of the biggest holidays in the country. Easter in Ukraine originates from the same holiday celebrated in other Christian communities, but it mostly adheres to the Orthodox faith and calendar. Thus, it is celebrated the week after Catholic Easter (in 2018 it is celebrated on April 8 in Ukraine). The preparation for Easter begins two months in advance. People lent and fast with strict devotion, as the country is passionate about adhering to the faith. Everyone awaits Easter day, as a festive mood blooms throughout the country and families come together to celebrate with food.
Easter’s festive table is of great importance, as the holiday follows the Great Lent and weeks of prescribing to certain postulates. On Easter day, people prepare traditional delights for the family. The table is always full of fish, meat and dairy dishes in particular, and it is usually decorated with spring flowers like daffodils or tulips. Also, Easter isn’t Easter without traditional Easter cakes (kulich or paska) and Easter eggs (pysanka and krashenka).
Let’s take a minute to talk about the important difference between pysanka and krashenka. Pysanka are eggs decorated with particular ornamentation and folk patterns that have special meanings. The roots of this tradition primarily originate from the region of Western Ukraine. Krashenka is an egg that has been dyed with red food colouring. It symbolizes the blood that Jesus shed for the sins of the people. Modern traditions have introduced new colours to the eggs, from green and blue to yellow and orange.
Ukrainians love traditions, therefore, each family has its own way of celebrating Easter. However, there are also common practices. For instance, it is customary not to sleep the night before Easter, as Orthodox people go to the cathedral for service and bring a variety of dishes with them. They take Easter cakes and eggs, meat and wine or even horilka (a drink you can try only in Ukraine), which is blessed with holy water by the priest.
After service, it is time to start the festivities, fill the table and extend greetings like ‘Christ is Risen’, and ‘He is Risen indeed’. Despite all the culinary treats on the table, the meal should start with Easter cake; every single crumb is eaten and never thrown into the garbage. In the interim, adults chat together, while kids play different games like bytky or ‘egg tapping’. The game is all about smashing your hard boiled egg (shell still on) into someone else’s without breaking your own. The object of the game is to be the last one standing with an unbroken egg.