Ukrainian Traditional Easter Basket – Special Food and Symbolism

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Easter is the biggest holiday after Christmas. Easter is called Velykden (Великдень) in Ukrainian. The preparation for it is held during the last week of Lent. Houses are cleaned (both inside and out), gardens are planted, field work is finished, but most importantly – Easter food is cooked! All sorts of non-lenten food like sausages and meat, cakes etc. are prepared but are not allowed to be eaten until Sunday.

We love the traditions associated with Ukrainian Easter, and especially the Blessing of the Easter Basket, which contains all the food items used at Easter Brunch.

The Easter Basket of special foods (described below) is arranged on Holy Saturday, and taken to church, where a special blessing ceremony with prayers and sprinkling with Holy Water, is performed by the parish priest.  Some churches perform their basket blessing on Easter Sunday, after the Morning Liturgy.

Besides the special foods, the Easter Basket is also decorated with greenery and flowers, as well as colored eggs, and beautiful Pysanky.

Each basket is covered with a hand embroidered cloth cover, with Easter motif of pussy willows and Easter Eggs.

This blessed food may not be consumed until after the morning Resurrection Liturgy on Easter Sunday.

The food in the basket is the only food being consumed at the Easter Brunch, which breaks The Great Lent fasting.

After Easter Brunch, the Easter celebration continues for the rest of the day, with family and friends visiting, and enjoying many other foods and desserts.

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Paska – Special Easter Bread (sweet yeast bread, rich in eggs, butter, etc), takes the center stage in the basket.

Symbolic of Christ, who is the True Bread to Christians. Paska bread is always round in shape, and decorated with a dough braid around the perimeter, and a ornamental cross in the middle.  The Cross reminds Christians that Christ died on the Cross for their salvation.

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Baked Ham – very popular meat for the Slavs as the main dish, because of its richness.  It is symbolic of the great joy, and abundance of Easter.  Some prefer Lamb or Veal.

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Kobasa – a spicy, garlicky, smoked pork sausage.  Indicative of God’s favor and generosity.

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Red Beet Vinaigrette (with Horseradish), or plain Horseradish, is symbolic of the Passion of Christ still in the minds of Christians, but sweetened with some sugar, because of the Resurrection.  The bitter-sweet red colored mixture is a reminder of the sufferings of Christ.

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Salt is also included in the basket, necessary for flavor, and as a reminder to Christians of their duty to others.

Butter

Butter – A favorite dairy product, is usually nicely displayed and decorated with a cross made out of cloves, or allspice grains.  Some prefer to mold it into a shape of a Lamb.  Butter is symbolic of  the goodness of Christ, that we should have toward all things.

Cheese

Cheese – Creamed cheese, or “Hrudka”, a sweetened cheese ball, decorated with same herbs as butter, indicative of the moderation that Christians should have in all things.

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Eggs – are another very important food item in the Easter Basket.  All eggs are hard boiled, and kept in their shell. There should be at least one or two hard boiled eggs per person, for the Easter Brunch.  One of the hard boiled eggs is peeled, as it will be cut to as many pieces as there are attendees to the Easter Brunch, and shared with everyone, accompanied by salt and horseradish.

What is a pysanka?

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Simply put, it is an Easter egg decorated using a wax resist (aka batik) method. Its name derives from the Ukrainian verb “pysaty,” meaning “to write.”  (“Pysanka” is the singular form; “pysanky” is plural.)

But it is much more than that.  Ukrainians have been decorating eggs, creating these miniature jewels, for countless generations. There is a ritualistic element involved, magical thinking, a calling out to the gods and goddesses for health, fertility, love, and wealth.  There is a yearning for eternity, for the sun and stars, for whatever gods that may be.

Wishing you a Happy and Blessed Easter!