Easter in Ukraine is not only one of the most significant events in the Church calendar – it’s also a fusion of pagan and Christian traditions, and a blessed chance to gather with your nearest and dearest (though it might be by video call).
Velykden – Ukrainian for ‘Great Day’ – is the day when Orthodox Christians commemorate the resurrection of Christ. However, in its first iteration, it was a pagan celebration of the reawakening of nature after the long winter. Many Ukrainian Easter traditions are borrowed from the pre-Christian period, including Easter bread (paska) and Easter eggs (krashanky and pysanky). Easter is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full month after the spring equinox, meaning that the date is different every year. In 2020, Orthodox Christians will be celebrating Velykden on 19 April (a week after Catholics, who celebrated on 12 April).
This Easter will be an unusual one, radically adjusted to quarantine conditions: family trips to church with your Easter basket are out of the question. But not all of the Easter traditions require a crowd.
Preparation should begin a week in advance (the run-up to the big day is known as Holy Week). On the Monday, it is customary to clean your home (if quarantine boredom hasn’t driven you to do so already). Tuesday is a day for washing and preparing your outfit for the upcoming holiday. On Holy Wednesday, you should finish your cleaning and get started on the Easter dishes: knead the dough for baking, and prepare the dyes for the krashanky (eggs that are dyed a single colour). Clean Thursday is a day for washing your body, traditionally at dawn, before continuing to cook. Good Friday is a day of strict fasting, when people give up the fun and hard work.
One of the most-anticipated moments in the Easter calendar is the Saturday night church service, and meeting the dawn to the sound of church bells. On Sunday morning (or Saturday evening in some regions), crowds of churchgoers wait for the priest to bless their Easter baskets with holy water.
This awe-inspiring tradition will have to be put on hold for now, but don’t let it get you down: this year’s Easter services will be broadcast online, so that we can watch from the comfort of our homes. Sunday morning starts with a family breakfast, including all the dishes blessed by the priest. Children look forward to the ‘egg battle’, in which two people tap their eggs together (if your eggshell doesn’t crack, you’re the winner).
Easter basket essentials:
Paska (traditional sweet Easter bread)
Pysanky (Easter eggs decorated with diverse folk motifs)
Krashanky (dyed Easter eggs)
Easter baskets vary slightly from region to region – some might contain honey, others ham. People may also include objects to be blessed, such as crosses or icons.Perhaps in previous years we’ve been too busy to bake our paska, paint eggs, or have a proper catch-up with friends and relatives. This year, with the quarantine keeping most of us at home, we have no choice but to find meaning and delight in the small things, and feel gratitude for the people in our lives. In spite of the restrictions (or perhaps because of them), 2020 might just be the year when we really enter into the spirit of this great holiday.