Celebrating Easter, Russian-style

Posted on 0, by Anatoly

Here in the West, Christmas is generally considered the most important Christian festival. But in Russia, it’s Easter that takes pride of place.

Easter is a time when the faithful and atheists alike, young and old, city dwellers and country folk attend Easter Mass.

But Easter in Russia is a lot more than just a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a long and powerful tradition which even the communists couldn’t get rid of. Easter cleanses our souls and thoughts, bringing peace, joy and hope. And it’s a time when Russians look forward to a happy family feast with lots of special Easter food like Easter bread, traditional cheese cake, Easter eggs and other tasty treats.

 

In Russia, Easter is usually celebrated later than in the West, because Easter dates are determined by different calendars. The Russian Orthodox church uses the old Julian calendar, while the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches switched to the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century.

The Russian-Orthodox Church celebrates Easter in a special way. On the eve of Easter Sunday, people put on their best clothes and come together in dark churches, which symbolise a gloomy world without the light of faith. In the past, satanic creatures were believed to turn especially evil on the night before Easter. People didn’t go outside after sunset as they feared every cat could be a witch and every dog a devil. A church was a safe shelter, though.

At midnight, ringing church bells announce the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Priests appear at the altar, crucifix and candles in hand. Solemnly singing, they walk around the church. Everyone lights their candles and follows the procession.

The Orthodox liturgical chant creates a very special atmosphere. The Mass goes on till dawn, when church bells start ringing, the singing gets louder, and finally the priests tell everybody to forgive each other, and seal their forgiveness with a hug and a kiss.

Holy Week is a busy time in most Russian homes. After a spring clean, it’s time to bake Easter bread. Eggs are painted on Holy Thursday and fresh Easter cakes (Paskha) are prepared on Saturday. But it’s a time of fasting, so tasting food during cooking is forbidden. Everyone is looking forward to the feast.

Easter Day starts with a long family breakfast. The table is decorated with fresh flowers, pussy-willow branches and, of course, painted eggs. Besides Easter bread and Paskha, which are only eaten at Easter, there’s lots of other food on the table, like sausages, bacon, cheese, milk, etc – everything that was prohibited during the Forty Day Fast. However, the feast starts with a simple piece of aromatic Easter bread.

Sharing food at Easter has a long tradition in Russia. After breakfast, people visit friends and neighbours, exchanging eggs and Easter breads. It’s also common practice to visit cemeteries and bring eggs, bread and beer to the graves to let deceased loved ones enjoy the feast.

 

In the past, only men were allowed to ring church bells. Bell-ringing could be heard everywhere, creating a joyful atmosphere. Men played harmonicas watching the girls have fun on swings. There was a lot of flirting going on.

It’s still very popular to roll Easter eggs along the ground or down a hill. The aim is to break the eggs of other players without damaging your own. Farmers believe that rolling eggs keeps the soil fertile.

Painted eggs are an international Easter symbol. In Russia, Easter eggs are believed to possess magic powers, protect crops against weather damage, keep cattle healthy and ward off evil spirits. An Easter egg hidden in the foundation of a house will bring the owners happiness and prosperity. They even say you can make yourself look younger by rolling an Easter egg over your face.

Traditional Easter eggs are red, though you can use other colours (spinach dyes eggs green while beetroot gives them a red tint). They take on a nice shine if rubbed with vegetable oil.

Eventually, people started making and painting wooden eggs. Porcelain, gold, silver and gemstone eggs are very precious. The most exquisite ones today are the Imperial Easter Eggs designed by the world-famous jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé for the Russian Royal Family.

Whatever you do this Easter, we hope you have a great time. And if you want to celebrate Easter Russian-style next year – just give us a call!