This weekend, most Albertans will be celebrating Easter but did you know that many Ukrainian Canadians will observe this important day on May 1st?
In the 1920s in east central Alberta, Ukrainian Canadians celebrated Easter by the Julian calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar which is used by the western world. This tradition continues today. While most of us see Easter Sunday on the calendar for March 27 this year, Ukrainians and any other who follow the Julian calendar will be celebrating Easter on May 1.
Editor’s note: keep reading for a recipe (with pictures!) on how to make your own paska bread for Easter!
In Ukrainian, the word for Easter is Velykden’ (pronounced vel-IK-den). The translation of this word literally means “big day” or “great day”, which highlights the importance of this holiday in the year. Easter is the holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Christ.
Lent (Pist, pronounced peest) is practiced for 40 days prior to Easter. Traditionally, no animal products were consumed during Lent. Celebrations were not held during Lent, as it is a time for solemnity, reflection, prayer and preparation for the important holiday to come.
During Lent, preparations are made not only to the body and mind, but also to the home. Pysanky are made, the house and yard are cleaned, homes and fences may be repainted. During Holy Week, the week immediately before Easter, families will spend time preparing all of the items for their Easter baskets.
To prepare for Good Friday services, Ukrainian churches are often stripped of all joyous decorations such as flowers. The church will hang black banners and the priest will wear black vestments, as if for a funeral or memorial service. The service and hymns are sung in mournful tones and the church bells are not rung.
As part of the Good Friday service, the congregation will participate in a procession around the church to recreate Christ being carried to his tomb. A plashchanytsia (plahsh-chan-it-seea), or Holy Shroud, is an icon painted on a linen-like material. The Shroud depicts Christ’s body in a tomb. It is carried in the procession and then placed upon the tetrapod (a small altar in the nave of the church).
This is the day that Ukrainians will traditionally bring their Easter baskets to church for blessing. After the Easter liturgy, the congregation will form a large circle of families and their baskets in the church yard. The priest will bless the baskets with holy water, incense and prayer.
Easter baskets contain a number of traditional and symbolic foods. Many of these foods are things that have been limited and moderated during the 40 days of Lent, such as meats, dairy products, and eggs. Different regions and different families may have variations on these items. Some common foods in an Easter basket are:
- Paska – braided bread, topped with dough crosses and other symbols such as roses or birds
- Babka – a tall, round, sweet bread which is often baked in a coffee can
- Beets – usually shredded and mixed with fresh horseradish
- Cottage Cheese
- Meat – many different varieties may be included, such as ham and garlic sausage
- Pysanky – decorated eggs celebrating new life and rebirth
After the church services conclude, families return home with their baskets of blessed food. The entire family will gather around one table and break their fast by consuming the food of the Easter basket.
Want to experience the taste of paska? The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village generously shares their recipe: