Ukrainian Easter Traditions: Celebrating Spring, Family…and Food!
Springtime is a season of renewal and hope throughout the world. Ukraine is no different. After a long, harsh winter, Ukrainians in Europe and North America alike celebrate the return of the cheerful songs of birds, the greenery of grass and trees, and the colourful blooms of tulips and daffodils.
Prior to the christening of Ukraine in the Christian religion in 988 AD, ancient peoples in the region of present-day Ukraine celebrated this awakening of nature and return of warmth and plant life.
With the advent of Christianity, Ukrainians coupled the renewal of spring with the hope and promise provided by their belief in Christ’s Resurrection. However, many of the traditions that are still practiced today began before Ukraine was baptized in the Orthodox Christian religion. In addition, the symbolism found on Ukrainian Easter eggs and other art forms jointly reflects both pagan and Christian beliefs.
Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Week
Contrary to popular belief, Christmas is not the most important Christian holiday. Easter is. Leading up to Easter is “Holy Week,” which is a very busy time. For Ukrainians, a great deal of preparation is needed to appropriately and reverently celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
- Holy Thursday: On this day, also referred to as Maundy or Passion Thursday, Ukrainian Christians attend special services that recall the passion of Jesus Christ. Twelve gospel readings are sung—each depicting a particular story of suffering in the life of Christ.
- Good Friday: Observing Good Friday is a solemn affair for Christians, since it is the day of the Lord’s Crucifixion. Ukrainians tend to fast on this day, abstaining from meat and dairy primarily. In addition, they avoid manual labour, speak quietly and kindly to one another, and put aside any disagreements.
- Holy Saturday: Ukrainian Christians also fast on Holy Saturday and attend Confession. Sometimes blessing of the Easter foods are done on this day rather than after the Easter Resurrection service.
- Easter Sunday: On Easter Sunday, Christians around the world celebrate Christ’s Resurrection and triumph over death. Ukrainians have many special traditions which we will discuss in detail throughout this website.
Ukrainian Easter Foods
For Ukrainians, food is a central part of any celebration. Because many Orthodox Christian Ukrainians observe the 40 days of Lent–starting on Ash Wednesday and concluding on Easter Sunday–food is of even greater importance. They frankly haven’t eaten a hearty meal in nearly seven weeks!
On Easter Sunday, Ukrainian families bring an Easter basket filled with the foods that they plan to eat at their Easter breakfast later that morning. The priest blesses these baskets, which are filled with goodies such as meats, eggs, cottage cheese, and breads. At the conclusion of the Easter church service, each family takes their blessed food home and celebrates with a communal breakfast.
Check back for Ukrainian Easter recipes!
Other Ukrainian Easter Traditions
Ukrainians love to sing and Eastertime is no exception. People of all ages gather to sing and play “song-games,” some of which date back to Pagan times. Young maids of the villages would sing in two-part choral arrangements and accompany the songs with complementary movements.
Ukrainian children take advantage of this happy celebration to play Easter games. The boys love to ring the church bells once the Easter church service has concluded. The children later play games using the Krashanky Easter eggs. They would roll the eggs in the grass and see whose eggs did not crack to be deemed the winner. The boys also would toss the eggs in the air and whoever had an egg that survived the fall into the grass was deemed the winner. Eating the eggs was also fun!