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Easter has always been a special time for me, filled with cherished memories and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. I was raised as a Russian orthodox child during Soviet era when being religious and going to church was still frowned upon by society. Yet my (rebel) grandmother made sure to raise us all following good old Orthodox traditions. I feel blessed to have known my grandmother because she instilled in me a deep appreciation for the Orthodox faith and allowed me to truly experience its traditions and teachings.
I remember as a kid waking up on one early Easter Sunday and finding no one around, but the dining room table was set for a delicious banquet, full of all kinds of tempting foods like covbasa, ham, pastries, krashankas, etc. But I knew better than to sneak a bite until my family returned from church with food blessed by a Russian Orthodox priest.
In Russian Orthodox religion, it is a tradition to have blessed food as the first thing to eat on Easter Sunday morning. Only after we take that first bite, can we eat anything we want. It was always a mystery to me why Sunday breakfast had to be this strict, but even a bigger mystery was how did my grams manage to find a priest who was incredibly generous to bless OUR food on one of the busiest holidays. We all knew that our grandmother was good at PR, but... hmm may be she traded some of her baked pirogies for that special "Easter food blessing"? The mystery was eventualy solved when one early Easter morning I personally witnessed the sacred process.
One very memorable Easter Sunday night, my mother and I ventured out of our home, carrying a bucket as we joined other families congregated outside our local Orthodox church. Our mission was to have our food blessed by a Priest, which is a tradition in preparation for the second most significant holiday of the year (other than Christmas). As we settled down and our eyes adjusted to the dimly lit surroundings, I couldn't help but notice a vast sea of exquisitely adorned baskets, each belonging to a different family. These baskets were filled with an assortment of food items, including colored eggs (i.e."krashanky"), homemade bread, kovbasas, cheese, and on occasion, even a bottle of vodka! However, there was one very special food item that were a staple in every basket: Paska!
What is Paska, you ask?
Paska is a traditional Easter bread that is being baked usually only once a year to celebrate Easter holiday in Ukraine and the nearby regions. It is a sweet bread that is made with eggs, sugar, milk, and butter, and often flavored with vanilla or lemon zest. Paskas could be as small as your hand or, as my mother told me today, as big as a 5-gallon bucket!
When I lived in Ukraine, my grams used to bake Paskas and share them with the people she loved. All my grams’ baked goods were pretty famous! It seemed like everyone we knew had tried her delicious goodies. My grams baked goods were filled with so much love that they filled your soul with sweetness and warmth with every bite.
Nowadays, my mother does all the baking for us (Whew! The Easter is saved!). I am not sure if the Paska recipe she has is the one that was passed on from generation to generation, but what I am sure of is that her baked goods are just as good as my grams’. Whenever my mother bakes Paskas or pirogies (sweet bread with a filling), we often talk about my grams remembering good old times together as a family.
Back at the church waiting for sunrise felt like an eternity, but it was worth it. The moment the priest came out of the church holding a candle and blessed our baskets one by one was a special moment for me. It made me feel part of something bigger than myself, and it strengthened my appreciation for the traditions that bring my family together.
After the blessing, we went home and enjoyed a feast filled with all the delicious food we had been waiting for. But for me, the Paskas and colored eggs (“krashankas”) were always the highlight of the Easter meal. Easter has become more than just a day for me; it’s a day to remember my grandmother, the love she put into baking for others, and the traditions that connect me to my Ukrainian family. It’s a day to be grateful for all the blessings in my life and to share that gratitude with others.
Happy Easter to you and your loved ones!