When you hear the word ‘Holidays’ what is the first thing immediately that comes to mind? Family? Traditions? Food? Or perhaps all the above.
For many, this word conjures up traditions and family time spent together. For me, it is all the above taken up a notch. Throughout the year there are two very Holy, very Religions holidays that are uniquely special, both quite similar and yet different. But both holidays are times to pause, reflect and embrace moments together surrounded by family and chalked full of cultural traditions passed down for generations.
The two holidays are none other than Christmas and Easter. I mentioned in a previous blog about my family’s Ukrainian/Italian traditional Christmas Eve dinner but today I’m inviting you all to our traditional Ukrainian Easter celebration. One of the many reasons it’s time for a celebration and not just a typical dinner is because each day leading up to Easter Sunday are specific days of fasting, reflecting, and preparation.
Easter is the Holiest day in our Catholic/Christian faith and the preparation that takes place is meant for us Christians to reflect on the life of Jesus and to know the love He has for us even after his death over 2000 years ago. He gave His life for us on the cross so we would have salvation through Him. So in our traditional custom that means fasting, it means looking at the good in your life that God has blessed you with and preparing for time spent with family.
Easter week begins with Palm Sunday leading up to Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally the glorious celebration of The Resurrection or Easter Sunday.
My mother was raised Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Byzantine Catholic), however, my father and my two older sisters and I were raised Roman Catholic. For those of you who may not know or may not understand the difference, both are Catholic and both Greek and Roman Catholicism are under the Pope in Rome. However, Greek Catholics are considered more strict in many facets of the religion. When my mom and dad got married my mom just followed my dad’s religion thus raising us Roman Catholic. Generally, during these holy holidays in the year, we follow my mom’s Greek Ukrainian Catholic customs and traditions all the while incorporate my dad’s Italian customs too.
During these 3 days, are days spent attending church mass, preparing and consuming food that is generally allotted only for this time of year as well as spending quality time with family. These 3 days, leading up to Sunday are days of fasting; or sacrificing giving up things you otherwise would enjoy like specific food, not listening to music or whatever it may be, reflecting on what Christ did for us, and the overall preparation; cleaning, meal prep etc. During this preparation, we abstain from consuming meat and dairy also called a Black Fast, in addition to the other “things” we have been giving up for Lent are observed during this time. Luckily for me, I don’t consume dairy so that has been easy to incorporate especially during the ‘Black Fasting” days in the Catholic Liturgical calendar.
By the time of Good Friday a Black Fasting day, my mom will have most of the food prepped and ready for the final cooking process, is getting the time-honored Blessing of the Easter Basket ready for Holy Saturday. This is a tradition where a small sampling of each food is included in the basket and taken to the church for the priest to give a special blessing followed by sprinkling Holy water over the baskets on the altar. The food within the basket is consumed as breakfast on Easter Sunday Morning.
Before Easter mass on Sunday, my family gathers for a small breakfast that includes the Blessed food.
These foods prepared for the blessing are symbolic within the Ukrainian tradition:
Baked kielbasa-God’s generosity and favor
Pickled eggs- Resurrection of Christ representing new life
Baked ham- Easter celebration of joyful abundance
Easter cheese- Moderation that Christians should show and display in life
Paska (Ukrainian for Easter)- Represents Christ, Our Bread of Life. This bread which is a traditional and slightly sweet and very rich bread has quite a bit of egg in it, giving it a dense yellow color bread when cut.
Horseradish- The passion of Christ
Butter- Christs Goodness, generally in the shape of a baby lamb
Salt- Our duty as Christians to help others
Candle- Symbolizes Jesus, “the light of the world”
Colored eggs- Both colored and uncolored eggs symbolize hope, new life and Christ rising from his tomb
Wine- Blood of Christ
We all take part in the Easter Egg contest where each person at the table takes a turn smacking someone else’s egg, with their egg. The person with no cracked ends or with one un-cracked egg is declared the winner. The food that was Blessed on Easter Saturday is now eaten for Easter Sunday breakfast and then, of course, any leftover Blessed food will be included in the large early afternoon dinner. Food that is Blessed has to be eaten, but if it is not all consumed then any crumbs including the broken eggs shells from the Easter egg cracking contest must be buried. This custom is acknowledging that this food was blessed and any blessed food must be buried and or burned to be returned to the early elements.
With all of these amazing smells filling my mom and dad’s house I can’t help but recall back to when I was a little girl enjoying these same foods that even now are so special to eat. Everything about any holiday where customs are preserved is so special for me whether it’s from seeing familiar faces or partaking in religious customs is something I have never taken for granted and I am Blessed my mom and aunt have continued on with these wonderful traditions. I can remember when we would all gather at my Grammy and Pop Pop’s house and the various relatives “popping” in and out to spend time with one another has forever been imprinted in my heart and in my soul. With those memories of loved ones who are now no longer with us, makes these holidays that much more special. I want to hold these precious moments, preserve these occasions on days when I yearn to be back with my family.
It’s these moments and unique but special traditions I will always remember and since this is the first Easter without my beloved Pop Pop, it’s even more special to be a part of these traditions. Enjoy today with your family and friends because tomorrow is never guaranteed.
And as they say in Ukrainian, I say to you: “Khrystos Voskres” (Christ is Risen) and in response “Voistyno Voskres” (He is truly Risen).
I hope you all take this time to make beautiful memories you can one day look back on and cherish.
I hope you all have a very Blessed and Happy Easter!