Celebrating Easter in Ukraine

With the arrival of Christianity in Ukraine in the tenth century, some ancient festivals were replaced or combined with Christian celebrations, with one of the most notable celebrations being Easter, or Velykden. Previously this mid-spring event was associated with the revival of nature after a long, often harsh, winter, and with the adoption of Christianity it came to be a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, signaling the end of Lent, or Pist, a period of forty days when believers may fast, repent and devote time to spiritual pursuits in preparation for Easter.

Verlykden is a joyous celebration with a number of interesting rituals that are still observed in parts of Ukraine today. A feast is held on Easter Sunday, at which paska – a traditional Easter bread – is one of the main features. Each household will make sufficient paska to feed family, relatives, friends and unexpected guests, but the baking of the bread is strictly a family event. Traditionally, the person making the paska is required to wear a clean shirt, have clean thoughts and supplicate God to bless the success of the process. As the paska goes into the oven, no one in the house is permitted to be lying down as this would hinder the rising of the bread. If the paska bakes successfully, the household will do well in the coming year, but if it does not, the household should expect misfortune. Paska is usually iced and colorfully decorated before serving.

The tradition of painting hardboiled eggs, known as pysanky, is another colorful feature of a Ukrainian Easter. While some people may choose to paint their eggs in one color, those who are artistically inclined will paint intricate patterns and pictures in many colors. This is usually done on the Friday before Easter, known as Passion Friday, or Strasna P’yatnytsya.

On the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday, many people go to church for a service and vigil that lasts all night. In the morning, the priest will bless the baskets of food brought by the congregation and this food will be taken home and shared later with family and friends, in a spirit of warm hospitality and thankfulness.