Easter basket and its symbolism
"Be tall as the willow, healthy as the water, and rich as the earth." With this expression, Ukrainians have been known to tap one another with willow branches on the last Sunday before Easter — Palm Sunday — wishing for each other the energy and new life found in the early blossoming willow tree.
The root of many of today's Ukrainian Christian traditions can be found in ancient pre-Christian times of the culture of early Ukrainians and nowhere is this more evident than in the beautiful tradition of the Easter basket.
During ancient times many Ukrainian customs were connected to the calendar, to nature and to the changing of the seasons. With the coming of Christianity in 988 AD, the colourful, pre-Christian rituals blended with and became integrated into Christian celebrations.
A season especially welcomed and long awaited by Ukrainians was the coming of spring. The passing away of the cold, dark days and nights of winter and the re-awakening of nature's plants, rivers, streams and animal life along with the renewed warmth of the sun was a glorious occasion for celebration.
Of many songs, dances, customs and rituals, which were offered up to nature by a strongly agricultural society during this most important season of the year, some were later merged with the Christian celebration of Easter and the Resurrection of Christ.
The custom of the preparing and the blessing of the Easter basket with its traditional Easter foods is a blending of ancient ways and as a result is rich with beauty, history and symbolism.
Meat and dairy products were supposed to be excluded from daily meals during Lent, the weeks prior to Easter. As the end of Lent nears, Ukrainians, take a basket of specially prepared small portions of such foods to be blessed at church Easter morning and then afterwards return home with their family to joyfully "break the fast".
Each item in the wicker basket, which itself is mainly reserved for the Easter blessing, has symbolic meaning and illustrates the faith of the Ukrainian people.
There are traditionally two types of eggs placed in the Easter basket. The egg is symbolic of hope and of the emergence of new life and of the Resurrection. The krashenky or plain, coloured hard-boiled eggs are traditionally eaten first after the first egg has been broken and shared among the whole family, signifying family unity and hope for a good year to come.
The other type of egg is the well-known pysanky -- beautifully decorated eggs adorned with symbols of nature and Christianity applied with a stylus dipped in hot wax. The carefully and intricately decorated eggs are not eaten but used as gifts. The sharing of pysanky with friends and family is a sign of the good wishes meant for them. Archeologists believe that pysanky were created several thousand years before Christianity.