For most of Ukrainians Easter is a very important religious holiday. It is celebrated in every Ukrainian region and has traditions and customs which have been kept up from ancient times.
On Easter morning Ukrainians get up early and go to church. They bring big Easter baskets with them which are to be blessed. Food that is put in baskets is symbolic; every item has its meaning and reasons to be brought to church.
Ukrainian Easter basket items
Traditional orthodox Easter basket usually contains:
- dairy products;
- salt and horseradish.
The blessed food is not to be consumed until after the morning Resurrection Liturgy on Easter Sunday.
Easter basket contents meaning
In earlier times meat and dairy products for some periods were excluded from Ukrainians’ everyday meals because of the Lent. The Lent begins 40 days before Easter and ends on Easter morning. Ukrainians took a basket and put their small portions of ‘forbidden’ foods to bless in church and to eat after returning from blessing and joyfully break the fast. Some Ukrainians continue to keep a fast in current times.
Bread (paska and babka)
For Ukrainians bread is one of the essential foods, it is true for Easter foods, too.
People in Ukraine traditionally cook two types of sweet Easter bread – ‘babka’ and ‘paska’.
Paska is large Easter bread of round form made of white flour and often decorated with a cross and other suitable Easter ornamentation (pine cones or rosettes) created with dough. Paska is sometimes studded with raisins. In some paskas there is a hole in the middle for a candle which is put in the hole during blessing at church. The word ‘paska’ has Jewish origin. It came from the Jewish Passover feast known as ‘pesach’ and symbolizes Christ’s passing over from death to life. So paska is representing Jesus Christ and the lighted candle in it symbolizes the light of the world.
Babka (also known as kulich) is a sweet Easter bread of cylindrical shape and with delicate and rich flavor. It is made of yeast dough and can be also decorated with dough ornaments and studded with dried raisins. Babka symbolizes blessed mother.
Eggs (krashanky and pysanky)
Traditionally Ukrainians put into Easter baskets two types of hard-boiled eggs – krashanky and pysanky.
Krashanky are Easter eggs dyed with natural colors. In ancient times krashanky were dyed only in red color symbolizing Christ’s blood. Nowadays krashanky of different colors can be found. Ukrainians use decoctions to get various colors: onion skins (brown), beet (rose or red), blueberry (blue), marigold flowers (yellow), nettle (green). For Ukrainians egg is a symbol of new life emergence and the Resurrection. Krashanky are usually eaten first during Easter breakfast.
Pysanky are similar to krashanky but they are decorated in a different way. To create pysanka one should draw traditional Easter symbols with a stylus using wax and dyes on egg-shell. The most popular symbols are sun, cross, bird, flower, and vine. These Easter eggs are not to be eaten, but to be given as a gift to friends and family members. The sharing of pysanky is a sign of good wishes for those who get them.
From ancient times meat was often used during different festive occasions. Those who keep a fast do not eat meat products during the Lent, so on Easter they put meat in their Easter baskets in order to bless it and to eat during Easter breakfast and breaking the fast. Traditionally Ukrainians put to their baskets such types of meat products as ham, fresh or smoked sausage (kovbasa) as a symbol of God’s generosity and favor, abundance.
Sometimes ham and sausage are replaced by roasted lamb which is also symbolic – lamb symbolizes Jesus Christ who was the Lamb of God.
Two types of dairy products can be found in Ukrainian Easter basket – cheese and butter.
Cheese is symbolic of the moderation Christians should have at all times. Ukrainians usually put to their baskets farmer’s cheese or fresh dried curd. Cheese can be mixed with sugar, raisins and placed on a dish.
Butter is often shaped into a small cross or a lamb. It can be also decorated with cloves. Butter symbolizes Christ’s goodness and is placed on top of the cheese or on a small dish.
Salt and horseradish
These items are also symbolic. Salt reminds Christians the ‘salt of the earth’ – they are to live a Christian life.
Horseradish in its turn reminds of the bitterness of overcoming in Resurrection for Jesus Christ.
If it is hard to find willow Easter basket Ukrainians put into the basket made of other material few willow branches. Pussy-willow replaces wheat – symbol of Christ’s body — which is not available during Easter celebrations in spring, and willow tree is one of the first to blossom in spring on Ukraine’s territory. Willow branch is a sign of joy and new life beginning.
Ukrainian basket also has a cover. Ukrainian Easter basket cover is usually made of linen or other fine cloth and is richly embroidered with religious symbols. The cover symbolizes Christ’s burial shroud.
Easter basket blessing
For blessing Ukrainians line up their baskets in the churchyard and light candles. During the service Holy Water is sprinkled over the baskets and food in them. The candles continue to burn for the duration of the service.