In Ukraine the tradition of Easter celebration appeared at the end of the first millennium, with the advent of Christianity. According to the biblical story, Jesus Christ rose from the dead early in the morning, and the Resurrection was marked by a large earthquake - the angel of Heaven rolled away the stone from the door of the Holy Sepulcher. At the dawn, the women of the Myrrh-Bearing Mary Magdalene, and Mary, mother of Jacob and Solomon, came to the coffin with incense to cover the body of Jesus, but instead, they saw a fallen stone and an empty coffin. Then the angel appeared to the agitated women and announced the Resurrection of the Lord.
You may know that Easter or the Resurrection of Christ is the most ancient Christian holiday and the main holiday of the liturgical year, established in honor of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Almost every Easter tradition arose in worship. The Easter folk festivals all happen during the break after the Great Lent - the time of abstinence, when all the holidays, including the family ones, were rescheduled to the time of Easter celebration.
The symbols of Easter are everything that expresses Renewal (Easter streams), Light (Easter fire), and Life (Easter cakes, eggs and rabbits).
The most important holiday of Christianity, Easter is celebrated as a solemn divine service. The ritual formed during the first centuries of Christianity as a baptismal and the tradition of the Passover service at night was known in the Christian churches from ancient times.
Easter fire is an essential element both in church worship and Ukrainian folk festivities. It symbolizes the Light of God, which enlightens all nations after Christ's Resurrection. For example, in Greece, as well as in Orthodox churches of major Ukrainian cities, before the Easter service begins the faithful crowd waits for the Holy Fire from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In the event of the successful arrival of fire from Jerusalem, the priests solemnly carry it through the temples of the city. Believers ignite their candles and after the service, many of them take the lamp with fire home, where they try to maintain it for a year.
In the Catholic liturgy, a special Easter candle is lit before the beginning of the Easter service. The fire from the candle is distributed to all believers, and then the service begins. This candle is lit for the services of the Easter week.
Starting from the Easter night during the next forty days (before the Passover), it is customary to greet each other with the following words: "Christ is Risen!" - "Truly, He is Risen!" and kiss three times. This custom comes from the Apostolic Age: "Greet one another with a holy kiss".
People come to the Great Sabbath and the Easter service to consecrate cakes, cottage cheese, Easter eggs and everything that is prepared for the festive table after Lent. Easter eggs are given to each other as a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ. According to the legend, Mary Magdalene presented an egg as a symbol of Christ's Resurrection to Emperor Tiberius. The doubting emperor responded that as an egg does not turn red from white, so the dead do not rise again. The egg turned red at the same moment. Although nowadays Easter eggs are painted in different colors, the traditional one is red, symbolizing life and victory.
In the icon-painting tradition, the risen Christ is surrounded by oval-form radiance. The radiance reminded many of the egg, and Greeks deemed it a miracle or a riddle, unlike a regular symmetrical circle.
In the Orthodox tradition, a leavened bread of special sanctification called Artos is consecrated for Easter. Those unable to commune on Easter could feel the unity through the eating of common bread.
Nowadays, Artos is given to believers, who keep it in the house for a year. In times of illnesses, Artos is consumed on empty stomach. The symbol of unity is now overtaken by cakes and Paskas (Ukrainian Easter cakes). Paska cake is not to be confused with the name of the holiday in Ukrainian - Paskha.
Glazing on the Paska cakes is usually decorated with seals: either with Cyrillic letters ХВ (meaning Христос Воскрес - "Christ is Risen"), or images of a lamb. The latter is one of the symbols of Easter. In Ukraine, Easter cakes are often baked in form of lamb, while in Bulgaria, Italy, the Balkans a lamb is necessarily pierced for Easter.
All preparations for the Easter feast are advised to be finished by Great Thursday so that nothing distracts from the service of Good Friday - the day of the removal of the Holy Shroud and prayers.
Just before Easter the Orthodox believers gather in the church. The Easter procession begins at midnight with the loud singing of stichera - canonical texts of the stanza form. Then the procession comes to the temple's entrance and the service of Easter Matins begins.
After the silence of church bells during the Holy Days, Blagovest is especially solemnly celebrated in Ukraine and other Orthodox countries. During the Bright Week, anyone can climb the bell tower and call in the bell to honor the Resurrection of Christ.
Easter Folk Customs all over the world
Folk festivities begin right on the churchyard on the night before Easter. In Ukraine, folk festivals with dances and games lasted from couple days to two or even three weeks.
In Bulgaria, hundreds of large and small clay pots are dumped from the upper floors to commemorate the Passover victory over evil. The pots are made specifically before the festival and decorated with kind wishes. Any passerby can take a shard from a broken pot for luck.
According to the ancient Ukrainian traditions, Easter eggs were "Christed" - the different ends were crashed, just as people were thrice thrusting their cheeks.
Kissing and generally accepted phrases at the time of Christendom are the sacred Easter heritage that was passed by the Apostles themselves according to the ancient Greek tradition. In the early days of the Resurrection of the Savior, they joyfully exclaimed "Christ is risen!" and greeted each other with an enthusiastic, fraternal kiss. Thus, mutual kisses are the sign of the absence of hostility, being brought back to communion with God. The custom of giving a red egg is associated with the name of St. Mary Magdalene.
One more interesting Easter tradition is "pokatushki" - rolling eggs. In Ukraine, Easter eggs were rolled on the earth, which was believed to make it fertile, as the Easter-colored egg in Ukrainian culture meant a new life and rebirth.
In contrast with Ukrainian traditions, in some countries of Europe and North America, a custom of egg hunting is more popular. On the Easter morning, children immediately rush to search the sweets. In the end, kids discover the "nest" of the Easter rabbit with a lot of colorful eggs. The Easter bunny, symbolizing fertility and wealth, has become a symbol of Easter in Germany in the 16th century and has since spread throughout the world. Nowadays, toys and various sweets are made in the form of bunnies.
Easter fairs begin long before Easter. Usually located on the main squares in European cities, they are full of various handmade goods. Bridges and fountains are decorated with greenery and colorful eggs, symbolizing the Easter streams - Renewal and Spring of Joy. Bushes and trees, decorated with eggs and different characters, can be seen in private yards.
A funny tradition is revived during Easter in Ukraine - on Easter Monday, guys shower girls with water, and girls have revenge on Tuesday.
Easter is also a time of remembrance of the dead: people come to the graves of their deceased relatives, remember them with prayers and kind words, and ask forgiveness. Traditionally people leave few cakes on the graves. They pour a glass of vodka as in saying "Eat, drink and we, sinners, remember". On this day, the priest with the church brotherhood walk through the cemetery and sprinkle holy water over the graves with the following words: "Christ rose from the dead, By death He conquered Death, and to those in the graves He granted life." Thus, people can share the Sunday joy with their beloved ones.
Happy Easter, dear friends!