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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.

Holy Thursday and Good Friday

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.


Blessing of the Baskets - Sviachenia

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.

Easter Sunday - Paska

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!" 

According to tradition, after returned home, the orthodox believers sat at the table. Afterwards, the contents of the basket are devoured for breakfast and the candle is placed in the middle of the table and lighted. The meal started with Paskha, in spite of the culinary diversity on the table. It exactly took the center place on the festive table. Holiday bread – Paskha - is a symbol of the body of the Lord, and the egg, painted red, symbolized the revival of life in Slavs and other peoples.

 Painted eggs are one more obligatory festive Easter table decoration, these are 'Krashanky' (painted in one or several colors eggs), and 'Pysanky' (eggs painted with ornament), and 'Skrobanky' (eggs, on which the pattern is applied with a sharp instrument). The main theme of painting have always been floral designs in conjunction with images of rooster, sun, churches, etc.

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, herringstudenetz (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.

1. Blessing of the Baskets on Holy Saturday or Easter Morning

Image of Easter Basket Symbolism© 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.

2. Butter

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

3. Bread

Ukrainian Easter Bread© BlueFin on Flickr
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

4. Horseradish

Horseradish and Horseradish with Beets© Barbara Rolek licensed to, Inc.
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

5. Hard-Cooked Eggs and Pysanky

Polish Pisanki by Theresa Child© Barbara Rolek licensed to, Inc.
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

6. Sausage

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

7. Ham or Lamb

Ham in Rye Crust© Barbara Rolek licensed to, Inc.
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

8. Smoked Bacon

Bacon, with its great fattiness, is a symbol of the overabundance of God's mercy and generosity. 

Slovak -- slanina 

Russian -- bekon 
Ukrainian -- bekon

9. Salt

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.

10. Cheese

Slovak Egg Cheese or Hrudka© Barbara Rolek licensed to, Inc.
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.

11. Candle

A candle, which will be lighted in church at the blessing, represents Christ as the Light of the World.

12. Easter Basket Cover

Orthodox Christian Easter Basket Cover© Frank Toroney, used with permission.
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.
Courtesy of and  

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Have you seen pysanky? The Ukrainian Easter eggs provide a history of a people.

While in America they might be best known as a vehicle for grocery store kits, other cultures hold Easter eggs on a high and artful status. In Eastern Europe, notably Ukraine, a method for creating gorgeously colorful and elaborate eggs is called Pysanky.
While Pysanky looks (and is) complicated and time-consuming, it works the same way as drawing on an egg with a crayon: Wax is applied to areas where you don’t want color to appear, making a design when the egg is dyed. In Pysanky, melted beeswax is applied in a pattern with a stylus called a kistka, and then the egg is dyed. More wax is drawn on the egg and it’s dyed again. This is repeated several times, creating vibrantly colored and richly layered designs.

Even if the theories behind crayon-drawn egg designs and Pysanky are the same, the actual processes are vastly different—with the latter certainly not intended for Easter brunch deviled eggs.
Eggs for Pysanky are raw blown eggs, with the liquid whites and yolks very carefully drained out of  a tiny hole in the eggshell. The kistka can be either wood or electronic, and the dyes are specially formulated to be richer and brighter than standard food coloring. Shellac or varnish are sometimes used to seal the egg for display purposes.

The patterns on the eggs are nothing short of fine art. Geometric stars, grids, diamonds and other shapes are used as frames or pattern repeats, while specific images are symbolic: Birds sitting at rest for fulfillment of wishes, roses for love, the sun for growth, fish for Christianity and deer for prosperity. Colors are also symbolic: Blue for good health, green for hope, white for innocence, red for happiness and hope and orange for endurance. The detailed designs and vibrant colors on a pysanka egg are enough to turn heads, as they’re more than just an Easter decoration – they’re a genuine art form. The Ukrainian Easter eggs are beautiful and intricate, crafted with a steady hand over such a fragile surface. They also provide a history of a people. Pysanka eggs date back to at least 988 AD when Ukraine adopted Christianity and pysanka became entrenched in the religious symbolism of Easter.

Derived from the Ukrainian word for "to write," the pagan art form celebrated the harvest and the harvester with natural images and colors. Wheat symbolized work. Livestock represented wealth. White stood for purity; green for growth; black for darkness.

When Christianity was introduced in the Ukraine in the 10th century, the eggs rolled with the changes. Just as Christianity adopted pagan symbols, the eggs became a canvas for Christian expression, with crosses and dots that symbolize the tears of Mary.

The Ukrainian pysanka  was believed to possess an enormous power not only in the egg itself, which harbored the nucleus of life, but also in the symbolic designs and colors which were drawn upon the egg in a specific manner. The intricately colored eggs were used for various social and religious occasions and were considered to be a talisman, a protector against evil, as well as harbingers of good.

A step-by-step guide to pysanka eggs

1. Clean the surface of your egg using vinegar. A dirt and oil-free surface helps retain the dye.

2. Heat the copper end of the kistka (stylus) above a candle and scoop a little bit of beeswax into the top of the metal funnel. Reheat the tip of the kistka and, using paper towel, wipe away any excess wax that melted onto the wires holding the funnel to the handle.

3. Let the melted wax come out of the fine end of the kistka and draw on the egg’s surface. Use the wax to “seal” the color in on the egg. Any white spot you cover in wax will remain white on the finished product.

4. When you’ve finished your white designs, carefully place the egg in the yellow dye bath. Let it soak and absorb the color for a few minutes.

5. Repeat Step 3. Any melted wax that hardens on the now yellow surface will seal in the yellow and that color will remain in those spots on the finished product.

6. Soak the egg in the red dye-bath, then use the wax to seal in your red designs. Then repeat this step using the black dye. (Since it’s your last color, you don’t need to seal in your black spots with wax.) Once you’ve gotten the hang of three colors, consider adding orange, green and blue.

7. Remove the wax by carefully holding your egg above the candle flame. Wipe the wax away using paper towel. “Keep the clean end downward to avoid getting smoke on the exposed egg. Likewise, when wiping wax away, push the stroke away from the clean part of the egg,” Lang advises.

8. Apply a coat of varnish to your egg to seal in your colors and make them more vibrant. “Pysanka” is meant to last 70 years or more. Happy Easter!!

Courtesy of The Eastern Echo   and Saanich News - News

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