Easter in Ukraine (Вели́кдень Velykden – The Great day) is a unique holiday, and an amazing combination of traditional Christian practices, folklore, and ancient pagan beliefs. Coloured eggs, tasty Easter bread, blessed pussy-willow branches are the symbols of this holiday.
No chocolate eggs and bunnies, sorry 😊
Pre-Christian background of the holiday Velykden has quite deep traditions. It was the celebration of fertility, as spring’s arrival was viewed as the beginning of new life. As a symbol of fertility, people would put coloured eggs in the land when ploughing. As an appreciation for that, the gods would bring a great harvest. People often drew archetypal symbols like the Tree of Life and solar/lunar symbols on their coloured eggs. In this way, our ancestors communicated with a higher power.
The preparation before Velykden
Holy week (Велико́дній ти́ждень Velykodnii tyzhden) is the week before Easter Sunday (Velykden). It begins with Willow Sunday (Ве́рбна неді́ля Verbna nedilia) (Palm Sunday) when Ukrainians go to the church and bless willow branches, then they gently tap each other with the branches and wish (each other) good health, wealth, and happiness. The next important day of the week is Holy Thursday (Чи́стий четве́р Chystyi chetver). On this day, people clean, wash, cook and bake because, after Thursday, it is not allowed to do any housework.
After Holy Thursday, Good Friday (Страсна п’ятниця Strasna pyatnytsia) comes. This day is commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary. This day people follow a strict fast, so no meat or dairy products are allowed to be eaten. People should not do any manual labor either. Even conversations should be quiet.
In some regions, people start to bless their Easter baskets on Saturday, others on Sunday morning.
What is inside the Easter basket?
During Lent, the faithful don’t eat any meat or dairy products; that is why on their Easter basket, they have everything to break one’s fast: eggs, cheese, ham, bacon, sausages, horseradish, butter, salt, wine, and of course paska – the Easter bread.
Finally, Easter Sunday comes. Ukraine’s Easter holiday follows the Easter dates set by the Orthodox Christian Church; that is why the date is based on the Julian calendar and is celebrated later than in many Western countries. Each year the date of the Great day is different; this time, Easter is celebrated on the 2nd of May.
On Saturday night, people go to the church for service and bring their Easter baskets with them. The priest blesses their meals with holy water during the service. After the church, people go to their homes to celebrate and greet each other with the words: “Христо́с Воскре́с!” (Hrystos Voskres!) – “Воі́стину Воскре́с!” (Voistynu Voskres!) (“Christ is Risen!” – “Truly, He is Risen!”).
Coloured eggs: пи́санки (pysanky) and кра́шанки (krashanky) Krashanky are the monochromatic hardboiled eggs. Traditionally Ukrainians use natural dyes to colour the eggs: onion peel and beetroot. On Sunday morning, when the food is blessed, people start their Easter feast with paska and krashanky. There is also a famous “egg battle” game when two people wrap their eggs together, and if someone’s eggshell breaks, that person has lost.
Pysanky are the hand-painted eggs. It is a real piece of art that has become a symbol of Ukrainian culture. The word “pysanka” came from the verb “писа́ти” (pysaty), which means “to write”.
Paska is a cylindrical shape bread with a rounded top decorated with a white glaze made from sugar and eggs. It is a sweet and very soft white bread, usually with raisins inside. While baking paska, it is important to be calm, quiet, and to have a clear mind.
That’s how Ukrainians celebrate Easter. Have you ever seen it in Ukraine? We would be happy to read about your experience in the comments. Have you ever played “egg battle”? Do you want to?