Both Ukrainian Christmas and Easter are rich with ancient traditions woven into the fabric of the holiday. I love the connections; these ways we remember those who came before us. When I mentioned blessings baskets on Twitter and Facebook, several people asked me to explain, so I’m adapting/updating this description from an older blog post (April 7, 2007):
I have always admired the way my maternal grandmother dyes her eggs with onion skins, so this year collected the yellow onion skins for several months. We boiled the eggs with the skins, and voila!
On Saturday, we had the blessing of baskets, one of my favorite Ukrainian Springtime traditions. In Ukraine, Christianity came late (988 CE). The peasants still clung to their Old Ways, and as a result, Christianity became infused with them.
The traditional Spring celebrations: dances, baking special breads, painting pysanky, burning fires, dousing with water…these were directly adapted into the Easter holiday. The Saturday before Easter, Ukrainians take their baskets filled with the traditional foods to an area outside of the Church…the blessing usually takes place outside, unless there is rain. The foods are blessed by holy waters and then enjoyed the next morning as breakfast.
The basket usually contains hardboiled and colored eggs, smoked sausages, ham, cheese, butter, horseradish mixed with beets, some salt, and of course the sacred bread, called “paska” or “babka.” Sometimes seeds are added, to be blessed for the garden. We always add some cat food for the cats, and some chocolate…well, because it’s chocolate!
The preparation and baking of paska was considered one of the most important tasks of the year. (I like to bake my own but didn’t get the chance this year.) People believed that the future could be predicted depending on how this holiday bread turned out. Every homemaker wanted her paska to be the best and the biggest, therefore while baking it she performed various magical gestures and used incantations. The dough for the paska was kneaded in a trough which rested on a pillow so that the bread would be light.
During the preparation, the baker had to maintain positive thoughts. While the paska was in the oven, no one was allowed to make a loud noise for fear it would collapse in the oven. In some regions of Ukraine the man of the house stood guard in his front door lest someone enter and cast an evil spell while the paska was baking.
The top of the paska is often covered with symbolic signs made of dough such as a cross, solar signs, rosettes, leaves, pine cones, birds and bees. They refer back to the Goddess of Spring, and the rebirth of the Sun.
Wrapped in a rushnyk (ritual cloth) and placed in the basket, the paska was carried to be blessed in the outdoor ceremony. Once these were offered to the Goddess of Spring and the Sun, now they are offered to the Mother and her reborn Son. Still a ritual of rebirth. The archetypes survive in a slightly different form.
We had a large basket for our family, filled with foods that we shared for breakfast on Easter Sunday.
In the spirit of my ancestors, I wish you all the blessings of Spring and the prosperity of a Summer and Fall filled with abundance. May the Sun shine with favor on your path, and the ground grow fertile beneath your feet.