Today, Ukraine celebrates Easter. See how its traditions looked like in the previous century

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We learned how the Lviv region was preparing for Easter and celebrated this holiday 100 years ago. The old photos depict traditions that were followed, and some of them have survived to this day.
photo: Anton Zelinskyi

photo: Anton Zelinskyi

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The magic of preparation

A special role before the bright holiday of Easter was played by the preparatory period, when it was necessary to clean the house, the yard and the surrounding area.

According to Doctor of Historical Sciences Mykola Bandrivskyi, on the eve of Easter before the First World War, Galician landlords whitewashed not only houses but also crosses and figures, decorating everything with flowers. That is, they cared about the purity and beauty of the whole village.

«In the tradition of the Orthodox Church, Easter is more important than Christmas. It is not for nothing that fasting on the eve of the holiday is called Great. All this time, everyone was fasting, preparing himself to meet Christ. Easter was to be pure in every sense. Everyone took care that the big holiday came to a pure soul, to a clean apartment, to the swept streets,» – Mykola Bandrivskyi told Lviv Now.

Fasting was observed especially strictly a century ago. Due to that, according to the interlocutor, the holiday was felt deeper and fuller.

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«Fasting, careful preparation revived both body and soul. Now, housewives are not so worried about whether they will be able to bake Easter cake or whether it will be beautiful and good. Earlier, at the time when the housewives were baking Easter cakes, it was impossible to quarrel in the house, to think about the bad, but, on the contrary, it was necessary to be clean and organised inside,» – says Mykola Bandrivskyi.

Holiday, not a date

Lviv local historian and guide Petro Radkovets also speaks about the careful preparation of houses for the bright holiday of the Resurrection of the Lord, finding recipes for Easter cakes and even drying wooden logs for smoke-drying meat. According to him, such long cooking was a kind of magic.

«We are now looking at the calendar and we know the date, month and the year. Earlier this was not the case. Rather, they said: two days after Christmas, two weeks before Easter, or just – on Peter’s. That is, 100 years ago, the holidays themselves were much more important than the dates. Easter was the greatest holiday, so it was necessary to prepare accordingly. The days in the last week before Easter were painted: it was necessary to have time to clean, wash the windows, find all the recipes, think about firewood. On Maundy Thursday – knead and bake Easter cake. And on Saturday – to make Easter eggs, to think about clothes «, – Petro Radkovets speaks.

The women’s Easter eggs were mostly painted in onion peel. Eggs were allowed to be painted in different colours, but red was preferred, symbolizing the blood of Jesus Christ. According to Petro Radkovets, pysanky were also written in that antiquity. But not only on the eggs of chickens, but also migratory birds. Such birds fly away in the autumn to the vortex, which is analogous to a Christian paradise.

The city is not like the village

Both Mykola Bandrivskyi and Petro Radkovets say that they celebrated Easter in different ways in towns and villages. But the rituals of the day – going to church, consecrating Easter and morning meal – were almost the same. However, outside the church, each family determined its own traditions.

Finally, like today, the best dresses and shirts were worn in the church.

«Most people now celebrate Easter the day before, on Saturday. And 100 years ago, it was done on Sunday at dawn, after the morning service. The families were big, everyone had to go. Those who live in remote villages left early to attend the service. The church was not only a place for prayer, but also for meetings and communication. The old traditions in the cities were also followed, but they looked a little different – not as compact as in the countryside,» – says Petro Radkovets.

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After the service, which lasted at least 2.5 hours, Easter baskets were consecrated, where each housewife put the most important dishes – Easter cakes, eggs, meat, horseradish. Then, everyone went home, where they sat at the same table. The meal began with a piece of sacred egg.

Historian Ihor Lylio says that at that time, the rich of the city helped the poor on holidays, including Easter, and even created entire foundations to help.

The celebration of Easter itself was a family one. Relatives, godparents went to share greetings. Main traditions were knocking Easter eggs between each other, or children were free to ring church bells all day.

A feature of Easter centuries ago, according to Ihor Lylio, was the carnival.

«The carnival was held immediately after Easter. Giants walked the streets on stilts, performing various scenes from biblical history. Celebrations took place on the Market itself, fireworks were set off. People could be given food on behalf of the city authorities – they just threw bread, rolls and sausages into the crowd,» – says the historian.

Which was watered on Monday

It was believed that the water on Easter Monday, which is called watered or clean, became healing, brought happiness and health. Therefore, people poured not only on each other but also on themselves. This day was associated primarily with the spiritual spring cleansing.

However, according to the interlocutors, two years ago, this day never looked like it does today.

«On a clear Monday, they sprinkled water to clean, but never poured from a bucket or hose, as it is now,» – says Petro Radkovets.

«Before, no one could have imagined that a well-dressed young lady was doused with water from a bucket. Everyone would react to this at once,» – says Ihor Lylio.

Olga Shveda, translated by Vitalii Holich


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