Easter is the feast of Christ’s resurrection, which in its observance combines both pagan and Christian elements. Easter (in Ukrainian: ‘Velykden’ or ‘Paskha’) is preceded by seven weeks of Lent and celebrated on each first week after vernal equinox and full moon. It is the most cheerful holiday for orthodox believers.
In Ukraine Easter is called Velykden (The Great Day). In Ukraine Easter has been celebrated over a long period of history and has had many rich folk traditions.
Ukrainian Easter is a historical combination of heathen and Christian traditions. Velykden was celebrated thousands of years ago as the victory of the Light over the Dark, Day over Night, Spring over Winter. The Resurrection was celebrated only from 988 when Kiev Rus was baptized. For some time these two systems coexisted, for some time it was forbidden for people to follow heathen traditions, but later the church decided to use in its Easter ceremony the heathen customs like painting eggs and backing Easter cake.
The last Sunday before Easter is called Willow Sunday (Verbna nedilia). On this day pussy-willow branches are blessed in the church.
The week before Easter, the Great (Velykyi) Week (Holy Week), is called the White (Bilyi) or Pure (Chystyi) Week. During this time an effort is made to finish all field work before Thursday, since from Thursday on work is forbidden. Pure (Maundy) Thursday is connected with ritual of clarification by water.
On Passion (Strasna) Friday—Good Friday—no work is done. In some localities, the Holy Shroud (plashchanytsia) is carried solemnly three times around the church and, after appropriate services, laid out for public veneration.
Saturday evening people gather in the church for the Easter vigil till the very morning when priests bless the food believers brought. After that people go home to celebrate Easter with their families. If they meet other people on the way they say: “Christ is risen!” and these people should reply “Risen indeed”. All the people exchange Easter greetings and give each other painted eggs (krashanky).
Easter cake (‘Kulich’) and painted eggs (‘Krashanki’) are the symbols of Ukrainian Easter and obligatory food on the table this day. Kulich is baked from yeast dough in the form of cylinder. Krashanka is a boiled and painted egg. On this Day Ukrainian kids play their favorite Easter game: knocking the eggs. If you knock somebody’s egg and you egg is not broken than you are the winner.
The krashanky and pysanky (Easter eggs) are an old pre-Christian element and have an important role in the Easter rites. On this day they are given as gifts or exchanged. There is also the rite of sprinkling with water, which is still carried on in Western Ukraine on the next day afrer Easter (Wet Monday, Oblyvanyi ponedilok). It is practiced by young people, the boys usually splashing the girls with water.
During the Easter season in Ukraine the cult of the dead is observed. The dead are remembered during the whole week after Easter, especially on the first Sunday following Easter Sunday. People gather in the cemeteries, bringing with them a dish containing some food and wine, which they consume, leaving the rest at the graves.