Saturday, March 30, 2013
How Ukrainians Celebrate Easter. Paska in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Orthodox Great Lent is a time of self-denial and abstinence from all meat, poultry and their byproducts. In some families, eggs, cheese, milk, butter and even fish are not allowed. Palm Sunday (Shutkova Nedilia) marks the end of Lent. People take pussy willow branches (the earliest-blooming plants) to be blessed in church in place of palms, which are largely unavailable and expensive in Ukraine. They are brought home and placed behind icons and holy pictures. What follows Palm Sunday are days of religious services and food preparation leading up to Easter Sunday.
Before Holy Thursday (Velykyi Chetver or Strasty Khrysta), which commemorates Christ's passion, everything has to be cleaned (including whitewashing walls inside and outside), gardens planted, field work finished, clothing ready for Sunday Mass, pysanky made, and all the cooking and baking done because after Holy Thursday, no work is performed. Instead, attention is paid to religious services and last-minute touches around the home like putting out embroidered linens and so on.
On Good Friday (Velykodnia Piatnytsia), the church often sets up a plashchenytsia representing the tomb of Christ for worshippers to pray at. Blessing of the food baskets (Sviachenia) takes place on Holy Saturdy or Easter Sunday, depending on the customs of the region.
Wicker baskets of food are taken to church on Easter morning (in other regions this is done on Holy Saturday). Paska (an eggy, round loaf of bread sometimes decorated with religious symbols made out of dough), Ukrainian babka (a tall cylindrical loaf often baked in a coffee can like Russian kulich), pysanky (eggs decorated using the wax-resist method) andkrashanky (colored eggs), shynka (ham), lamb, kovbasa (sausage), krin (horseradish sometimes mixed with grated beets), maslo (butter often in the shape of a lamb), telyatyna khlib (veal loaf), smoked bacon, cheese, often in the form of hrudka or paskha, rye bread, salt, and other regional specialties are included in the basket. A decorated beeswax candle goes into the basket and is lighted during the blessing in church.
Church-goers at Easter Sunday Mass greet each other with Христос воскрес! Воістину Воскресе! (Khrystos voskres! Voistynu Voskrese!), which means "Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!"
Celebrating Easter in Ukraine continues for 40 days - exactly as much as Christ appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. Throughout the 40 days every orthodox believer should welcome with another with the words "Christ is risen!" and receive confirmation in response to these words, "He is risen indeed!" During this time, but especially in the first week people go to each other at home, give painted eggs and cakes, play Easter games. There are many Easter games. The most famous game is Knocking, when children and adults choose Easter eggs and knock them one on another. Whose is broken, those lost.
It is interesting that during the first week of Easter in all the churches is permitted to call bells to anyone who wishes.
The food is left on the table all day for people to nibble as they see fit and to give the women of the house a chance to rest and enjoy the holiday. The basket contents, however, are just a small portion of the delicious spread on the table. Often, holubtsi(stuffed cabbage), mashed potatoes, gravy, pyrohyor varenyky (stuffed dumplings), hot vegetables, cold salads, herring, studenetz (jellied pigs feet) and salchison (headcheese) are also served. And lots of desserts, including syrnyk (cheesecake similar to Polish sernik), poppyseed roll similar to Polish makowiec, meringue tortes, cookies and other decadent delights, are offered.
Blessing of the Easter Food Baskets on Holy Saturday or Easter morning is a tradition among Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian Eastern Europeans, including Czechs, Croatians, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Poles (who call it swiecenie pokarmow wielkanocnych), Russians, Rusyns, Slovaks, Slovenes and Ukrainians.
As to what goes into a food basket depends on the region one is from, the family's preferences and financial means. Years ago in rural villages, it was a mark of one's wealth if a groaning basket (sometimes even a dresser drawer containing whole hams and slabs of bacon!) of Easter delectables was presented to be blessed. But conspicuous displays are less common these days and just a sample of many foods with symbolic meaning now line the basket. Instead of ham, some Croatians and Slovenes place lamb in their baskets, and western Slovaks place a veal loaf, known variously as sekana, sekanice, polnina, in theirs. An interesting bread loaf with veal known as Velkonočna hlávka might also appear in some baskets. While, in wine-making regions like Hungary and others, bottles of superior vintage go into the basket, and yet others add green spring vegetables to theirs. Balkan countries like Serbia, Bosnia, Bulgaria and some others exchange eggs on Easter morning rather than have a basket of food blessed.
Since Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians fast during Lent, not one morsel of this blessed food is eaten until after Mass on Easter Sunday and, thus, becomes the traditional Easter breakfast. Here is what most Slovaks, Ukrainians and Russians put in their baskets. Many recipes are crosscultural since Slovak, Ukrainian, Carpatho-Rusyn and Russian cuisine has been influenced by neighboring Hungary, Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic. Here is more about how Easter is celebrated in each Eastern European country. For more on Slovak Easter, check out Lubos Brieda's Slovak Cooking.
© Polish American Center, used with permission.
While tastes vary by region and family, the basket usually contains smoked meats, sausage, butter, cheese, bread, salt, cake and pysanky eggs. A candle is placed in the basket so it can be lit during the blessing. Some families tie a bow or ribbon around the handle of the basket. Finally, a richly embroidered cloth basket cover rests atop the food. Not one morsel of this food is eaten until after church services on Easter Sunday. As custom dictates, each member of the household must eat a sample of everything in the basket lest misfortune befalls them.
Butter is symbolic of the goodness of Christ, that we should emulate toward others. It can be shaped into a fancy lamb-shaped mold or simply packed into a glass container with cloves in the form of a cross studding the top.
Slovak -- maslo
Russian -- maslo
Ukrainian -- maslo
The name paska came from the Jewish Passover feast known aspesach and from the Greek version of the word –- pascha. Paska is also the word for a round loaf of sweetened yeast bread / cake studded with orange and lemon peel and raisins. It is a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life. Paska bread usually features a dough braid around the perimeter, and a dough cross or other religious symbols on top. Sometimes a hole is left in the middle for a candle to be lighted at church during the blessing.
Slovak -- paska and kolac
Russian -- paska and kulich
Ukrainian -- paska
Horseradish, especially mixed with grated beets, is symbolic of the Christ's passion and blood he shed. The horseradish can be placed in a decorative bowl for inclusion in the basket.
Slovak -- chren
Russian -- khren
Ukrainian -- khrin
Hard-cooked eggs, dyed red in the Orthodox Christian faith, and decorated elegantly using the wax-resist method are symbols of Easter, life, and prosperity, and Christ's Resurrection from the tomb. Check out this free online course in pysanky making from All Things Ukrainian.
Slovak -- kraslica
Russian -- pysanky
Ukrainian -- pysanky
Sausage, either fresh or smoked and symbolic of God's favor and generosity, is always present in the basket.
Slovak -- klobása
Russian -- kolbasa
Ukrainian -- kovbasa
Ham is symbolic of great joy and abundance. Some prefer veal or lamb, which reminds Christians that the Risen Christ is the Lamb of God.
Slovak ham / lamb -- klobása / jahňacie
Russian ham / lamb -- vetchina / baranina
Ukrainian / lamb -- kovbasa / baranyna
Bacon, with its great fattiness, is a symbol of the overabundance of God's mercy and generosity.
Slovak -- slanina
Russian -- bekon
Ukrainian -- bekon
Salt, a necessary element in physical life, is symbolic of prosperity and justice and to remind us that people are the flavor of the earth.
Cheese is symbolic of the moderation Christians should have at all times. Usually fresh dry curd or farmers cheese (not aged) is placed in the basket, but another type of cheese -- hrudka, also known as hrutka, sirok, cirecz, might be included.
A candle, which will be lighted in church at the blessing, represents Christ as the Light of the World.
Traditions vary from family to family about what goes into the basket that is to be blessed on Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, but what seems to remain constant are the colorful ribbons and greenery, pussy willows or dried flowers attached to the basket as signs of joy and new life in the season of spring and in celebration of the Resurrection. The other must is the richly embroidered basket cover, that symbolizes Christ's burial shroud, that goes over it. It's usually made of linen or other fine cloth that is embroidered with religious symbols related to the Resurrection and the celebration of Easter, and are passed down from generation to generation. A Ukrainian paska cover is similar to a rushnyk or embroidered towel except it has Easter symbols on it.
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