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Bright Holiday of Pascha, or Russian Easter
March 18, 2008 17:18

The festival of all festivals – this is how Pascha was called in pre-revolutionary Russia. In those days it was a custom to make merry at fairs, entertain on see-saws and merry-go-rounds, pay visits, and give and take presents. Yet, the greatest pleasure after many days of Lent was certainly the Easter feast.

In the olden days, before Pascha Russians would traditionally clean their houses and yards, wash themselves in banya, go to markets to stock up products for breaking the fast, bake kulichi, baby, paskhas, mazurkas and honey gingerbreads, and colour eggs in onion skin. (Easter Recipes) .

There was a lot of work for a lady of the house: to bake kulichi big enough to provide every family member with a portion for every day of the Easter week; cook a ‘sacred’ paskha for the whole family, a ‘gala’ paskha for guests, and a paskha for servants and poor relations. There were a great variety of paskha recipes: boiled and non-boiled, sour cream and creamy, chocolate and pistachio paskhas. Kulichi and paskhi were decorated with hand-made flowers of bright coloured paper.

A whole piglet, lamb or a ham would be baked and veal would be roasted in the kitchen. Traditionally, coloured eggs would be put on a wooden plate among green oats or wheat sprouts and tied around with an embroidered towel and decorated with flowers.

On the Holy Saturday night Christians all over Russia were making their way to churches: through fields and woods, along paths and roads. Long before the festive service they would gather around churches waiting for an icon-bearing procession. The literate would recite the Acts of the Apostles from the choir. The folks would make bonfires of tar barrels in memory of the cold night that Jesus spent at the court of Pontius Pilate.

And now blagovest of the big bell is ringing… The crowd is stirring and candles are being lit in peoples’ hands; the priests wearing fair chasubles and carrying crosses, holy banners and icons come out of the church and the choir voice heralds the Resurrection of Christ: Christ the Saviour is Risen, Angels in Heavens are Singing!

On Bright (Easter) Sunday morning the air is resounded with joyful bell ringing everywhere. Under Czar Aleksey I Mikhailovich (from the Romanovs dynasty; reigning from 1645 to 1676) up to 37 thousand Easter eggs were prepared for distribution to common people on this day. Eggs of all kinds - hen, swan, goose, pigeon, duck, as well as wooden and bone, carved and painted - were distributed.

Before the morning church service tables were already laid in houses, all looking forward to breaking the fast. Everything in plenty! Rich hosts would serve 48 various dishes, according to the number of Lent days. Family’s godfathers and matchmakers were obligatorily invited to festive dinner. They all said to each other: “Christ is Risen!” – “Truly Risen!”, then regale themselves and had rest afterwards. All the Bright Week through priests served Easter pubic prayers. From early morning all church bells were ringing and anyone could try one’s wings as a bell-ringer; nobody would be turned down.

Following a pious custom, the poor were visited in almshouses and asylums. Secret charity was carried out. Easter food was sent to prisoners; money was collected for redeeming debtors from prisons. Hosts primed wanderers, pilgrims and holy fools with food in their own houses. And so it lasted this way all through the Holy Week, otherwise Pascha would not be happy.

In Russia folk marry-making with round dances, games, and see-saws could last from one day to two or three weeks, depending on the region.

The favourite Easter pastime, especially with the Russians, was rolling eggs down a hillock or a special tray: once the rolling egg bumps into the egg lying on the ground, the player wins that egg.

There was a belief that eggs laid on Holy Thursday and eaten on Easter would protect from illness. Consecrated eggs were considered to have magic power. Folks believed that such an egg could put out fire and so those eggs were kept behind the icon. Yet, before throwing the egg into the fire one was supposed to run around the house with it three times.


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Tags: Russian Holidays Russian Easter Russian Customs Old Russian Beliefs  

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