Even though Easter is a major religious holiday, you don’t need to be a true believer to appreciate the joyful atmosphere and abundance of tasty treats that come with it. Known in Ukraine as Velykden (the Great Day), it is an official state holiday, and therefore the Monday after Easter is a day off.
So, a three-day weekend offers an option of spending it following the Easter traditions, going out for picnics, or doing both. This year Orthodox Easter is celebrated on April 19. Now is a good time to remind ourselves what it’s all about.
The feast begins
Called Paskha in Russian, derived from the Greek name of the holiday which, in turn, is derived from Jewish Pesakh (Passover), and Velykden in Ukrainian, Easter or Resurrection Day is the main religious holiday in the Christian liturgical year. It is celebrated on the first Sunday following the spring’s full moon, or the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Catholic and Orthodox Easter celebrations usually fall on different days because most Orthodox countries use the Julian calendar, while Catholics use the Gregorian calendar for setting dates of changeable festivals like Easter. Easter comes at the end of the Great Lent – 7 weeks of strict fasting (meat, fish, eggs and milk are forbidden) and prayer, and therefore Easter Sunday is a time of joy and great feasts involving all the delicious foods which were off-limits for so long. According to the Ukrainian tradition, Thursday before Easter is called Clean Thursday. On this day the house has to be thoroughly cleaned and the main Easter treats – dyed eggs and Easter cakes – are to be made.
Friday is the day of prayer and the strictest day of Lent – you’re not supposed to eat anything all day. On Saturday night services begin in churches. Parishioners take baskets full of paskas (Easter cakes), eggs and other festive treats to have them blessed in church. The blessing can be done until noon on Sunday. On Sunday morning people greet each other by kissing three times and saying “Khrystos Voskres!” (Christ has Risen!). The right answer to that is “Voistinu Voskres!” (Truly Risen!). Don’t be surprised if you have to repeat it three times – this is also a part of the tradition that symbolizes the Holy Trinity. If you go to western Ukraine, you’re also likely to keep hearing these greeting for three days – for the same reasons.
On Easter, the main items on the festive table are Paska – a sweet Easter cake and boiled dyed eggs. Before eating eggs, there is a custom of cracking two eggs against each other, to see which one remains intact. The one who is left with a whole egg is believed to have a better luck. The other dishes on the table are up to the cook, but usually they include meat and fish in various preparations as well as pasties with many fillings.
Pysanka and Paska
Dyed eggs and Easter cakes are featured in Easter traditions of most of the Christian countries, albeit in different interpretations. In Ukraine, the tradition of dying Easter eggs evolved into a fine folk craft called “pysanka.” Pysanskas are eggs painted in various patterns with a small tube of hot wax called “pysachok.” It is done in many stages: some areas are covered with wax, then the egg is dipped into a colorful dye, and so it goes on. Different regions of Ukraine have their own pysanka traditions and ornaments with ancient symbols.
At home people often dye eggs solid by placing them into food dye. If you’re determined to have an ornament on your egg, you can scribble it onto an already colored egg with a needle, or by attaching a small petal with a piece of nylon before placing it in the dye.
One of the most popular natural dyes is onion skins. If you boil them for 30 minutes and leave the eggs in the concoction for awhile, they will acquire a beautiful brick red or brownish color. You may enhance the color by rubbing dyed eggs in vegetable oil. But, of course, nowadays you can skip the trouble and simply buy transparent plastic tubes with ornaments or pictures on them that stick to the egg while they’re boiling. At local shops and supermarkets, you’ll find those with religious and flowery patterns, pysanka patterns as well as those depicting cartoons, fairytale and biblical plots. Traditional Ukrainian Easter cake is paska – a cylinder-shaped cake made with rich dough of flour, milk, yeast, butter, eggs and sugar. The most common topping for paska is made of whipped egg whites and sugar, sprinkled with colorful millet.
Easter in Kyiv
As usual, a number of festivities are planned for Easter in Ukraine’s capital. Among the various events you can attend “Easter Bells” performance by various artists at Taras Shevchenko Park at 2 p.m.; visit pysanka exhibition and pysanka master classes at Svitlytsya gallery (13 Mazepy, through April 26); attend Easter celebrations for grownups and children at Koncha Zaspa and, of course church services at most churches and cathedrals in Kyiv. Since the services are on from 11:30 p.m. on April 18 till 3:30 a.m. on April 19, all of the municipal transport including metro will be running 24 hours.
Kyiv restaurants have also prepared Easter specials. O’Panas (10 Tereshchenkinvska) offers Easter baskets (Hr 300) with Paska, homemade sausage, buzhenina (cold boiled or grilled pork), blood sausage, Easter eggs and pepper vodka. Trypillya (27th kilometer of Novo-Obukhivska Trasa) offers you to fill the basket (Hr 60) with items of your choice: stuffed pike or pike perch (Hr 150 for 1 kg), chicken or veal sausages (Hr 78), pastries (Hr 5 each), different kinds of paska and vodka. Riviera on Podil offers a festive menu (Hr 170) with Paska and dyed eggs, salad with buzhenina, stewed rabbit leg with potato and almond puree, and a glass of red wine. The chef of Dukhmyana Pich (4th kilometer of Novo-Obukhivska Trasa) is preparing grilled sucking pig, paska, eggs as well as an assortment of fish and meat dishes. Also you can get Easter treats at Repriza confectionary chain (40/25 Khmelnytskoho; 38 Velyka Zhytomyrska; 10/5 Sahaydachnoho; 26 Chervonoarmiyska) which traditionally prepares delicious Easter cakes, chocolate eggs and bunnies, as well as at Wolkonsky Kayser (15 Khreschatyk; 5-7 Bulvar Shevchenka, Premier Palace Hotel) and Tsukernya Vanil (1/2 Baseyna).