SCENES IN THE UKRAINE: 3. the Paska, the Pysanka and the Willow Branch of Easter

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The colorful pysanky decorated to convey different meanings: protection
against danger, good wishes for love, fecundity, prosperity . . .

by Rose Maramba

Just to set the record straight: the Ukrainians, like people in other countries where the Eastern Orthodox religion and culture predominate, tell the day by the Julian calendar. Thus, Ukraine celebrates Easter 2022 on the 24th of April. By contrast, the more widely used Gregorian calendar marks Easter on April 17.

Three of the most significant  elements of Ukrainian Easter are:

The Paska, the Pysanka, and the Willow Branch

The PASKA is a traditional Ukrainian Easter bread often intricately braided and/or decorated with Christian symbolism. Delicious and soft and airy, the sweet paska can’t but queen it over the dinner table.

But no matter how tempting, Ukrainians can’t eat the bread until it was blessed at sunrise on Easter Sunday.

The preparation of the paska is ritualistic. Tradition dictates that the paska baker must keep his/her thoughts pure while on the job, and the household must be quiet. That’s to ensure a perfect loaf. No stranger is welcome to the silent home, lest he brings bad luck!

Ukrainians wait long hours to get their Easter food blessed. In the photo: people waiting outside a church in Odesa Oblast at 4:30 AM on Easter Sunday

The PYSANKA is raw Ukrainian egg for Easter. The colorful pysanky (plural of pysanka) are decorated with beeswax and dye and are arguably the most popular cultural products of Ukraine.

Pysanka, as an egg decorated artistically in accordance with the painstaking procedure, is what batik is to cloth.

Making their appearance on Easter Sunday, after they have been blessed by the priest, these raw eggs are meant to be given away as gifts. Colorfully decorated, they convey their respective messages to the giftees: protection against danger, declaration of love, good wishes for fecundity, prosperity . . .

A basketful of pysanky with a lone red krashanky in the center

While everybody receives gifts of pysanky – including the farm animals! – the brightly colored ones are given to the young, the somber ones to the older.

There is another kind of Easter egg in Ukraine, the hardboiled krashanky. It’s dyed with a single color, to be eaten at Easter dinner.


Willow branch (with leaf buds)

The WILLOW: Just like other Christians, the Orthodox Christians of Ukraine celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But because there are no palm trees in the country, Ukrainians make do with willow branches!

Like the palm fronds, the branches are kept all year round till the next Palm Sunday comes and Ukrainians can have a fresh bunch.


Featured image/Anne Breuzet, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Vignette applied.
Paska, Pysanka, Willow Branch/AMartiniouk, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikipedia
Ukrainians waiting outside church/katesheets, CC BY2.0 via Flickr
Pysanky and krashanky/L.Kenzel via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY3.0
Willow branch with buds/versageek via Flickr, CC BY-SA2.0