Celebrating Easter in Ukraine – Paska & Pysanka, Not Chocolate & Rabbits

  •  Celebrating Easter in Ukraine – Paska & Pysanka, Not Chocolate & Rabbits
Issue 122, April 2019.
Celebrating Easter in Ukraine – Paska & Pysanka, Not Chocolate & Rabbits
Sunny and warm spring is always a great time to visit Lviv. Best of all – it’s Eastertime! Have you ever wondered how Leopolitans celebrate Easter? One of the most important holidays in Ukraine, Easter marks the end of the Great Fast and celebrates the rebirth of Christ. The date changes each year, but it usually falls a week after Catholic Easter. This year Easter is on 28 April, so you have a great chance to combine your travel with a wonderful cultural experience.
For most Ukrainians and especially Leopolitans, Easter is a very important religious holiday. It is celebrated in every region of Ukraine and has customs and traditions that date back to the ancient times. Easter is usually celebrated with family and often brings family members from across the country under a single roof. Orthodox Easter differs significantly from its Catholic cousin, with the main features of Ukrainian Easter being the ‘Paska’ (traditional bread) and ‘pysanka’ (painted eggs). 
The top activities to keep in mind when celebrating Easter in Ukraine are:
1. Egg painting is a very popular Easter tradition in Ukraine. The decorations on the eggs are meant to symbolize the awakening of nature and the coming of spring. There are different patterns, ornaments, and motifs depending on the region of Ukraine. The process of decorating pysanky is relatively simple, although keeping a steady hand can be a challenge. Certainly, one of the biggest highlights of the holiday will be the pysanky exhibition, which is a can’t-miss event in Lviv.
2. Learn how to bake and decorate a paska. The Christian faithful in many Eastern Christian countries eat this bread during Easter. Christian symbolism is associated with features of paska breads. The inside can be a swirl of yellow and white that is said to represent the resurrection of Jesus while the white represents the Holy Spirit.
Bread is one of the essential foods for Ukrainians, and it is one of the most important on Easter. Paska is a large, round bread made of white flower and usually decorated with a cross and other suitable Easter ornamentation (like pine cones or rosettes) created with dough and sometimes studded with raisins. Some paskas include a hole in the middle to place a candle for when the bread is blessed at church. Tasting traditional dishes is one of the most important things to do while traveling, but it is even more exciting to cook a dish you’ve never tried before. So, why not try your hand at baking your own Paska by following our step-by-step recipe? 
Easter Bread Paska Recipe
2 cakes fresh yeast (or substitute 2 packets of active dry yeast – 4½ teaspoons)
2 cups whole milk, warmed to 110o F
7 to 8 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1¼ cup sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
5 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract 
2 cups golden raisins (optional)
For the Egg Wash
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water and lemon
In a large bowl, stir the yeast into the warm milk to dissolve and let sit for 5 minutes
Add 3 cups of flour and mix with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draught-free area until the dough has doubled in size
If you choose to use the golden raisins, soak the raisins for 30 minutes in warm water, then drain and pat dry with towels before using. This will keep the raisins soft.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer and add the sugar, melted butter, egg yolks, salt, vanilla, and golden raisins. Mix to combine
Mix on low to medium-low speed until the dough comes together, adding more flour one tablespoon at a time, as needed. The dough will be a bit sticky
Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead until it forms a smooth dough, about 5 minutes, again adding more flour one tablespoon at a time, as needed
Divide the dough into three equal sections and shape into loaves, then transfer to three 8x4-inch greased loaf pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size
When the dough has about 10 minutes left to rise, preheat oven to 400o F
Brush the tops of the loaves with the egg wash
Bake the loaves for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350o F and bake for an additional 40 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown
If the loaves are beginning to get too dark, place a tented or loose piece of foil over the top
Let the bread cool in the pans for about 15 minutes, then turn the loaves onto a wire rack to cool completely
Store leftover bread in a resealable plastic bag and keep at room temperature for up to 3 days
3. Wake up early to join people going to church. On Easter morning, Ukrainians get up early to go to church. They bring big Easter baskets with them so they can have them blessed. Food that is put in baskets is symbolic; every item has a meaning and a reason to be brought to church. Most baskets contain paska, pysanky, meat (usually ham or sausage), butter, salt, and horseradish. People go to church for the Easter sermon and wait for the priest to bless all the baskets at the end. They then bring them home with the holy fire from the candles and start the traditional Easter breakfast that contains the food from the basket.
4. Take part in ‘Wet Monday’, the second day of Easter. Many young Leopolitans head to the city centre to take part in festive ‘Wet Monday’ – an all-out water fight that is an ancient Orthodox Easter tradition. Wet Monday sees boys armed with bottles and bucket of water chase after girls to splash them from head to toe. Also popular in Central European countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, Wet Monday is gaining popularity in Ukraine too. It started in Poland as a pagan custom that symbolises cleansing with the coming of spring. The ritual was then transformed into a Christian ritual relating to the cleansing of souls of sins. Truth is, people loved the tradition so much, they just found a way to keep it. According to the original custom, the most beautiful girl in a village would be the wettest. Nowadays, boys just splash any girl they see. Recently, the city has organised a special zone for splashing (downtown around Rynok Square). So, if you dare, come out to join the happy people eager to purify themselves before the upcoming summer season!