For most of Ukrainians Easter is a very important religious holiday. It is celebrated in every Ukrainian region and has traditions and customs which have been kept up from ancient times.
On Easter morning Ukrainians get up early and go to church. They bring big Easter baskets with them which are to be blessed. Food that is put in baskets is symbolic; every item has its meaning and reasons to be brought to church.
Easter basket foods symbolize:
- Paska — Christ, Our Bread of Life
- Eggs — New Life and the Resurrection of Christ
- Horseradish — The Passion of Christ
- Bacon — God’s Mercy
- Cheese — the moderation that Christians should show in all things
- Salt — The duty of Christians to others
- Ham — The great Joy and abundance of Easter
- Butter — The Goodness of Christ
- Kielbasa — God’s Favor and Generosity
In earlier times meat and dairy products for some periods were excluded from Ukrainians’ everyday meals because of the Lent. The Lent begins 40 days before Easter and ends on Easter morning. Ukrainians took a basket and put their small portions of ‘forbidden’ foods to bless in church and to eat after returning from blessing and joyfully break the fast. Some Ukrainians continue to keep a fast in current times.
Bread (paska and babka)
For Ukrainians bread is one of the essential foods, it is true for Easter foods, too.
People in Ukraine traditionally cook two types of sweet Easter bread – ‘babka’ and ‘paska’.
Paska is large Easter bread of round form made of white flour and often decorated with a cross and other suitable Easter ornamentation (pine cones or rosettes) created with dough. Paska is sometimes studded with raisins. In some paskas there is a hole in the middle for a candle which is put in the hole during blessing at church. The word ‘paska’ has Jewish origin. It came from the Jewish Passover feast known as ‘pesach’ and symbolizes Christ’s passing over from death to life. So paska is representing Jesus Christ and the lighted candle in it symbolizes the light of the world.
Babka (also known as kulich) is a sweet Easter bread of cylindrical shape and with delicate and rich flavor. It is made of yeast dough and can be also decorated with dough ornaments and studded with dried raisins. Babka symbolizes blessed mother.
For blessing Ukrainians line up their baskets in the churchyard and light candles. During the service Holy Water is sprinkled over the baskets and food in them. The candles continue to burn for the duration of the service.