Easter’s celebrated a little differently in Russia, though you will find similarities with the British holiday as well. Known as Paskha, the holiday has at least a thousand year history and is the most important date on the Russian Orthodox calendar. As in the UK, Easter falls on a slightly different date each year. However, it takes place about two weeks after our holiday as the dates are set according to the Julian calendar instead of our Gregorian calendar.
Many Russians mark Easter by attending church; the candlelit service begins on the night of Easter Saturday. At midnight, bells ring which signify the resurrection of Christ. A sung mass is held which can last until dawn. Towards the end of the service, the priests gather around the crucifix and the greeting “Христос воскрес!” can be heard, translating as “Christ is risen!” Kisses are exchanged, three times as per the Russian custom, on the cheek.
In comparison, here in the UK the service is much shorter and Easter Saturday is just like a regular weekend Saturday, the focus for the faithful being on Good Friday instead. Church services on Easter Sunday tend to start in the morning and last just an hour or so. The church will once again be full of flowers, often absent for the period of Lent to mirror Christ’s time in the wilderness.
In Russia, Easter marks the end of Lent, just like you’ll find in Britain. The faithful have gone for forty days and nights with no meat, fish, dairy or alcohol, a fast begun at the Maslenitsa. It’s also been a time for abstaining from parties and having fun, so everyone’s ready to celebrate.
Certain food traditions are really important. Children decorate eggs, a fun activity that was continued through the Soviet era, and these days you’ll often see XB on them, short for “Christ is risen!” The traditional method places the eggs with onion peel and strips of silk before boiling. For many in Britain, childhood pastimes such as hand-painting eggs have been replaced by a trip to the supermarket to buy chocolate eggs, though it’s still possible to join in an Egg Hunt in most parts of the UK.
Easter is time for cake, too. You’ll find kulich, a special yeast cake baked with nuts and fruit, the Russian equivalent of our Simnel cake. Paskha, a cream cheese pyramid cake, is also found in most homes at this time of year. This feast is traditionally consumed for breakfast, as believers have fasted completely on Easter Saturday, and sausage, bacon, eggs and milk accompany the sweet treats. After breakfast, it’s time to visit friends and neighbours, exchanging gifts of painted eggs and Easter cake. Many pay a visit to the cemetery to ensure the deceased aren’t left out.
Will you mark Easter this year? What are your family traditions?