Easter in Ukraine will be celebrated on April 8 this year! The brightest and the happiest holiday I do remember from my childhood! Preparation, cooking and the procedure of praying for the Holy Fire are unforgettable! People gather with their families and walk to the church for the God blessing. When small drops of Holy Water anoint your face and soul, first cracks of New Dawn give a clear understanding that the new life has started and you are ready to live it! But in all this celebration process there is a note of mystery, a hint of understatement.
Almost in every Ukrainian house, you will find the Bible, but unfortunately, it doesn’t clear all the unknown points, arisen in our mind! So today, we have an excellent opportunity to dive into cultural history and finally get the answers to the most sacred questions!
“Christ has risen!
He is Risen indeed!”
History of Easter Traditions
People think that Easter is a typical gospel event. But let’s go back to far before 988, when Prince Volodymyr the Great had decided to christenize Kyivan Rus. From that great campaign the abolishing of pagan’s tradition started. Proponents of pagan origin see the essence of pagan rites through the Christian design of the feast. Many customs carried out today are not directly linked to Christianity. According to historical research the occasion of Easter celebration and ceremonies were borrowed from paganism and Judaism and skillfully connected to Jesus personality.
In Ukraine, in ancient times farmers believed that deceased relatives had continued to live underground and could affect land fertility. Thanks to that belief the memorial ceremonies took place in spring. Also our pagan forefathers celebrated a resurrection of sun on vernal equinox day which almost coincides with the Easter. But Christians disclaim any relationships of the Christ with pagan gods and truly pace faith in gospel works.
Most of us celebrate Easter for one or two days among relatives in the way of eating all the delicious dishes. But for true believers, Easter preparation lasts for seven weeks of the Great Lent – one of the harshest abstinence – 40 days of Christian Spiritually preparation for the primary and only meaning of fasting – for repentance. Easter also is known as Passion Sunday.
The Holy Thursday is a special day – the day when Jesus shared his last supper with his Disciples during the Last Supper. This day is also called Pure Thursday, and all Orthodox as much as possible try to partake. In the evening, the 12 gospels are read in the church, where the story of Christ’s suffering is told.
On Holy Friday, the shroud is taken from the church, a piece of cloth in which the body of Christ was wrapped up after the removal from the cross. It’s not allowed to eat during this sorrowful day. In ancient times, Christians did not leave the church after the Saturday Liturgy, but stayed there until the night, eating bread and wine. During the service, priests change their everyday clothes to the festive.
On the night of the Resurrection of Christ, festive divine services are held (Easter Vigil), Easter cake and pudding, eggs and other dishes are reconciled. In this way, the church blesses believers after a long period of fasting to start living their typical life. The rich Easter table is a symbol of heavenly joy and a symbol of the Lord’s Supper.
Ukrainian Easter Traditions
Easter Vigil lasts all night. The most crowning moment takes place at midnight when the priest says “Christ has risen!”, and all those present answer “He is Risen Indeed!”. After the divine service, the procession goes three times around the church. It’s called Sacred Procession. And then the process of the consecration of ritual Easter dishes – Easter cakes and eggs, sausages, horseradish and other dishes (depending on the terrain) – starts.
The products are collected in hand-crafted baskets, decorated with embroidered towels, colorful candles. After the church service, people go back homes and start celebrating ‘Id al-Fitr. According to the tradition, the first meal everybody must eat is hard-boiled Easter egg.
Celebrating Easter All over the World
Starting from the Chare Thursday up to the Easter Sunday to toll the bells as a sign of mourning is forbidden in Catholic churches. The Belief tells that all the bells fly to the Rome for Divine Service. Interesting fact that by Belgian belief bells doesn’t come back with empty hands – they bring home Easter eggs. In France, during the Easter, if you hear the bell ringing – start hugging and kissing for joy and happiness.
One more exciting activity is to hide colorful eggs in the nests and then ask children to find them. This funny game reveals the story of egg-stealing and painting by the rabbit. In Finland people set the fire for Easter to scare the witch. Children dress up in different costumes and go from home to home and collect sweets. In Denmark, holidays start on Thursday. People like to send nameless poetic greetings.