Forty day period preceding Easter Sunday is called The Great Lent. Fasting (no meat eaten on Fridays) and abstinence (no dancing, singing and having fun) have been and to a great degree continue to be part of the traditional observation of Lent. Religious observances include rituals following the Stations of the Cross. It a time for soul cleansing and penitence. The last week of the Great Lent is called the Holy Week.
The week before the Easter Sunday is called the the Willow Week. On the Willow Week Sunday people take pussy willow branches (the earliest-blooming plants) to be blessed in church. They are brought home and placed behind icons and holy pictures. What follows Palm Sunday are days of religious services and food preparation leading up to the Easter Sunday.
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On the Holy Thursday (or Clean Thursday), which commemorates Christ's passion, everything has to be cleaned (including whitewashing walls inside and outside), gardens planted, field work finished, clothing ready for the Sunday Mass, pysanky made, and all the cooking and baking done because after the Holy Thursday no work is performed. Instead, attention is paid to religious services and last-minute touches around the home like putting out embroidered linens and so on.
On the Good Friday Ukrainian churches provide a "plashchenytsia" representing the tomb of Christ for worshippers to pray. Meat (and formerly dairy products as well) is not eaten on this day.
On Saturday Ukrainians are busy preparing their Easter baskets. Easter basket in Ukraine traditionally contain «paska», «Pysanky», butter, salt, sausages and smoked meats, horseradish and candle.
Arguably one of Ukraine’s most famous Easter traditions is making of intricately decorated Easter eggs known as ‘pysanka’. The word pysanka comes from the verb pysaty, “to write”. Creating pysanka is an extremely complicated endeavor and they are usually created during the last week of Lent. The smoothest and best-shaped eggs are used to make pysanka. A stylus is often used to ensure perfect clean lines and intricate patterns on the eggs. Pysanka are given to friends and loved ones to represent the gift of life, and are usually decorated to match the personality of the receiver.
Paska is beautifully decorated Ukrainian Easter bread. Tradition states that the baker must keep their thoughts pure and the entire household quiet in order to ensure the bread bakes properly and becomes its fluffiest. This means that no one, not even neighbors or friends are allowed to enter the home during its baking! The intricate décor on the bread represents welcoming imagery of springtime. Some Ukrainian traditions insist upon three loafs: one to honor nature, another to honor the dead and a third to honor those on earth.
In Western Ukraine people bless their Easter baskets with paska (traditional Easter bread), pysankas (decorated eggs), meats, butter and other food in the evening of Saturday. On the Easter Sunday they go to the Sunday Easter Mass and return home to enjoy their Easter Breakfast. In other regions of Ukraine people take Easter baskets to Church for blessing in the morning of the Easter Sunday. Priests bless them at the end of the Easter Sunday Mass.
On the Easter Sunday, excited churchgoers will greet one another at mass with the saying, “Khrystos voskres! Voistynu Voskrese!” which means “Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!” After mass, families will gather to eat the contents of the basket that has been blessed either that morning or the morning prior. The contents are left on the table throughout the day to munch on while everyone rests and relaxes.
The Easter Sunday in Ukraine is the day for fun and spending time with family and friends. If you want to experience the traditional Ukrainian Easter and learn more about Ukrainian rituals of this holiday visit Western Ukraine and especially Lviv. Local dwellers just love Easter. Many people will be wearing elaborate and beautiful «vyshyvanka»s (traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts and garbs), enjoying the Easter Sunday brunches and dinners in Lviv downtown, singing traditional Ukrainian songs and having the best Easter times.
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Museum Square (opposite Dominican Cathedral) will traditionally host Pysanka Exhibition showcasing various pysankas painted by popular artists, celebrities, politicians and socialites.
For ultimate Easter fun in Lviv visit «Easter in Shevchenkivsky Gai» folk festival. It will be happening over the Easter weekend of April 16th and 17th. Here you can discover authentic Ukrainian Orthodox Easter traditions, listen to the oldest Ukrainian Easter songs called «gayivky» and taste traditional Ukrainian Easter food («paska» festive bread, roasted sausages and traditional liquors). Shevchenkivky Gai (Shevchenkivsky Gai, 1, Chernecha Hora street, Lviv.) is an open-air museum that displays different regional styles of farmsteads, windmills, churches and schools which dot a huge park to the east of the city center. Everything is pretty spread out here and a visit involves a lot of footwork.
Kyiv is also not lagging behind in the number of Easter celebrations. Sofiivska Square will host the biggest Pysanka Festival in Ukraine. The Festival starts on April 8th, 2017 and will showcase over 600 painted eggs. The items were made by famous artists, traditional Ukrainian «pysanka»-makers from all Ukrainian regions, eggs decorated by children. Sofiya Kyivska National Museum will host an impressive Easter Exhibition showcasing 25 thousand pysankas from all over Ukraine and other countries to celebrate the diversity of this Ukrainian tradition.
Ukrainian Dim (2, Khreshchatyk street, Kyiv) will be hosting Easter Fair from April 13th to April 15th, 2017. Here all visitors will have a chance to stock up on everything they need for Easter: paska, ready-made pysanky or goods that will help you to make them at home, Easter home decorations, baskets and other things.
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Kyiv is the official capital of Ukraine, but small Transcarpathian town of Kolomyya is the «pysanka» capital of the country. Kolomyya annually hosts one of the most picturesque and authentic Ukrainian festivals - Pysanka Festival. Be ready to be awed by pysanka designs that survived hundreds of years and many generations and are carefully preserved and cherished by locals till our days.
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