How the Polish and Ukrainian Catholic communities are celebrating Easter

This weekend is another special time of year.

Our reporter Mark Kielesz-Levine writes about how important Easter is to him.

Being brought up a Polish Catholic, I've always followed the traditions we have at Christmas and Easter.

This weekend is another special time of year, it starts on Good Friday when we aren't allowed to eat meat and this carries on until Sunday.

There is also fasting on Friday and a fish meal in the evening. 

On Easter Saturday, that's where the fun begins! Every family has a basket fitted with a lace napkin on top or at the base.

We fill the basket with boiled eggs (with shells decorated either with stickers or paint), Polish sausage (Kielbasa), bread and salt.

Every family fills a basket with traditional food which they then enjoy on Easter Sunday Credit: Mark Kielesz-Levine

The next step is to take this to the Polish church to be blessed and it is always exceptionally busy!

When I was a child, there was barely anyone there.

But when Poland joined the EU, thousands came over and flocked towards the old Polish communities that had existed since the end of World War II.

From then on, it's standing room only!

Despite there being a blessing every half hour or hour, each is packed. Baskets are taken to the front and there's lots of jostling for a good position!

The priest takes mass and blesses the baskets with holy water before each family takes their basket back home - just make sure you have the right one!

On Easter Sunday, we are allowed to eat meat again and so at breakfast, we eat the contents of the basket - even the salt we season with has been blessed!

Mass follows and it's a day to eat, spend time with family and celebrate Easter together.

On Easter Monday it's Smigus-Dyngus or 'Wet Monday' where traditionally people throw water over each other in a custom that goes back hundreds of years. 

None of these things were possible at Easter in 2020, so i'm grateful to be spending Easter as we traditionally do.

Mike Holod, from the Ukraine Culture centre in Nottingham told us about how Easter is usually celebrated in Ukraine.

Holy Thursday and Good Friday 

Before Holy Thursday (Velykyi Chetver or Strasty Khrysta), which commemorates Christ's passion, everything has to be cleaned, gardens planted, fieldwork finished, clothing ready for Sunday Mass, pysanky made, and all the cooking and baking done.

After Holy Thursday, no work is performed.

Instead, attention is paid to religious services and last-minute touches around the home like putting out embroidered linens and so on.

On Good Friday (Velykodnia Piatnytsia), the church often sets up a plashchenytsia representing the tomb of Christ for worshippers to pray at.

Blessing of the food baskets (Sviachenia) takes place on Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, depending on the customs of the region.

Blessing of the Baskets 

Wicker baskets of food are taken to church on Easter morning (in other regions this is done on Holy Saturday). A decorated beeswax candle goes into the basket and is lighted during the blessing in church.

Some types of food that you might find in one of these baskets include:

  • Paska: an eggy, round loaf of bread sometimes decorated with religious symbols made out of dough

  • Pysanky: eggs decorated using the wax-resist method

  • Krashanky : colored eggs

  • Shynka: ham

  • Kovbasa: sausage

  • Krin: horseradish sometimes mixed with grated beets

  • Maslo: butter often in the shape of a lamb

  • Cheese, often in the form of hrudka or paskha

  • Rye bread

  • Salt

Easter Sunday (Paska)

Church-goers at Easter Sunday Mass greet each other with Христос воскрес! Воістину Воскресе! (Khrystos voskres! Voistynu Voskrese!), which means "Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!"

Afterward, the contents of the basket are devoured for breakfast and the candle is placed in the middle of the table and lighted.

The food is left on the table all day for people to nibble as they see fit.

The basket contents, however, are just a small portion of the delicious spread on the table.

Often, holubtsi (stuffed cabbage), mashed potatoes, gravy, pyrohy or varenyky(stuffed dumplings), hot vegetables, cold salads, studenetz (jellied pigs feet) and salchison (headcheese) are also served.

Lots of desserts, including syrnyk(cheesecake similar to Polish sernik), poppyseed roll similar to Polish makowiec, meringue tortes, cookies, and other decadent delights, are offered