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Ukrainian Easter – a Celebration of Life

Today, more than a million Canadians have some form of attachment to the Ukrainian culture which has enriched charming customs, symbolisms, and ceremonies many of which have come down from pre-Christian times. Religious ceremonies of the Ukrainian ancestors were closely connected with the calendar and seasonal activities. One of the most beautiful of all Ukrainian religious celebrations is Easter, reflecting the religious outlook, social structure, the way of life, and the belief phenomenon of life and death.

With the introduction of Christianity in 988 AD to Ukraine, the Church merged the spring holiday with Easter-the Resurrection of Christ. Many of the ancient rituals become a part of the Easter cycle of celebrations. Ukrainian Easter follows the Easter dates set by the Orthodox Christian Church. The Julian calendar rich and deeply symbolic differs from the Gregorian calendar used by many western countries. The Orthodox Easter period often occurs later than the Easter period that falls after the time of the March equinox. During ancient times many Ukrainian customs were connected to nature and to the changing of the seasons.

Ukrainian Easter, the most glorious and radiant event commemorates the resurrection of Christ. This Easter symbolizes specific religious rites, traditional baking “paska” and “babka”, decorating Easter eggs “pysanky” (which means to write) with artistic designs of nature, and singing Easter songs “hahilky”and “vesnanky”by young girls on church grounds with the aim of enticing spring and chasing winter away. Also, dances and songs performed by young people attempt to entice and enchant all the good spirits of the reawakened nature so that it would bring good luck and wealth.

Ukrainian Easter observes the Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday (Verbna nedilia) commemorates the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem; observed with a special church service at which small twigs of pussy willows are blessed and distributed among the congregation. Historically, because palms are difficult to obtain, pussy willows are used instead.

On Good Friday the “plaschanytsia” of Holy Shroud is symbolically laid in the church and the faithful express their devotion by approaching the Shroud. Then on Saturday weather permitting or at times in the church, food-laden baskets are arranged in rows for blessing by the clergy. Each Easter basket has in it paska and/or babka, cottage cheese, meats, salt, butter, hard boiled eggs, horseradish, colored eggs (krashanky) and pysanky (decorated eggs); a lighted candle is placed in the basket for the blessing. The custom of the preparing and the blessing of the Easter basket with its traditional Easter foods is a blending of ancient ways and as a result is rich with beauty, history and symbolism.

On Easter Sunday, a special resurrection church service is held, the joyful heralding of a risen Christ in the singing of the traditional hymn Christ is Risen. After the Church service it is customary for people to greet one another with the traditional Easter greeting “Khrystos Voskres” (Christ is Risen) to which the reply is “Voistyno Voskres” (He is risen indeed), people return home to further celebrate the Easter ritual with their family members anticipating a happy and prosperous year.

Easter in Ukrainian culture is called Velykden-the Great Day, for on that day Christ resurrected from the dead; a celebration welcomed and long awaited by Ukrainians. Therefore, Ukrainian Easter in Canada is acknowledged as a feast of joy and gladness that unites the entire community in a common celebration.

Canadians of Ukrainian background will continue the observance of Ukrainian Easter with its unique customs, and its celebration of life.

About The Author

Peter J. Manastyrsky has written articles on political issues and a member of the Ukrainian community in Winnipeg.

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