As I write this I’ve just returned from dinner at my mom’s. It was Easter Sunday as celebrated by Orthodox Ukrainians. My day began very early. I was up at 5:30 to get to church by 6:30 for the culmination of the Easter services and the annual blessing of the baskets. It has been a long time since I attended this church service so it was both exciting and a bit intimidating. I had to search my memory to recall what was required of this tradition. I couldn’t find my larger, sturdier basket so had to improvise with an inferior one.
I spent part of Friday at my mom’s making a batch of special Easter bread called paska. This bread is braided, has a cross design on the top, and is the centerpiece of the basket. Alongside it is another sweet dough bread with raisins called babka that is cylindrical in shape.
Also included in the basket are boiled eggs and decorated Easter eggs called pysanky. As I chose a couple of the decorative ones I realized it was time to buy some new ones. Over time the dye colours fade and the varnish yellows. I picked the best of what I had.
A chunk of ham, some sausage, some cheese, a few stalks of green onions, and butter are also part of the feast. A fancy linen or embroidered cloth lines the basket with another cross-stitched one to cover the contents. Strawberries, chocolate, and other goodies are a sweet treat. The priest advised that anyone lucky enough to have a chocolate bunny in their basket should eat the ears first so he can’t hear you coming for the rest of him! I was not the only one to add a pussy willow branch as a decorative element. A lit candle is inserted into the paska before the priest comes by to sprinkle us and our baskets with holy water.
The church service involves the congregation walking around the church three times following a cross bearer and priest. The priest then performs part of the service at the exterior of the church doors. The symbolism to the tomb is clear. It is only through Christ’s death that the doors of heaven are open to the faithful.
For those who have been fasting getting home to eat this blessed food with your loved ones is a huge treat.
Today was another opportunity to gather as a family to share good food and to build traditions and memories. The three great grandchildren had a ball playing. The cousins who could attend swapped parenting stories. Kade cried and didn’t sleep. The men watched the Masters Golf Tournament.
As I work coordinating a Ukrainian festival I encounter some people who are zealous in their mission to preserve our culture. Better late than never, I am aiming to do the same for my benefit as well as my kids and grandkids. If I don’t, some of our culture and customs will leach away because of apathy and neglect. I can’t let that happen, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites..