Carpatho-Rusyn Heritage: Easter Traditions

The social and religious lives of Carpatho-Ruysns were very much interconnected, both in the villages and in the United States. The common denominator was the church, whether it be Greek Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

Easter, which is ten days way, is the most important day of the church year and Rusyns celebrate it with great joy.

Growing up, my grandmother would have celebrated Easter Sunday after attending Mass at St. Dimitry’s Church in the village of Udol, Slovakia. After she returned to the United States in 1910, Easter Sunday for her always included Mass at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Passaic, New Jersey.

Carpatho-Rusyns have a number of Easter traditions that have been practiced for centuries. One tradition practiced by Ukrainian and Polish Rusyns is the art of decorating Easter eggs, called pysanky. I have no memory of where Nana got her Easter egg – it may have been a gift from a friend – but this egg (pictured above) is very old. I remember it from my childhood and I’m in my 60s.

It is still in pristine condition because it just sits in its little glass container tucked safely away on a shelf.

The art of decorating pysanky is very old, although not unique to Rusyns. Growing up, I remember dying Easter eggs, which is very common, but I never tried hand painting an egg in the Rusyn style. I’ll have to give that a try this year. 🙂

One tradition that Rusyns share with other cultures around the world is the Easter basket. Unlike American Easter baskets filled with candies, a Rusyn basket is filled with traditional items honoring the risen Christ.

This Easter basket would be brimming with a set list of items. The Easter basket would be carried to church to be blessed before Easter Sunday. The items in the basket are meant to be eaten on Easter Day.

1. A candle in the basket is lit when the basket is taken in for the blessing.

2. Paska – This is an Easter bread (from the Latin word for Easter, pascha.

3. Bacon – symbolizes God’s mercy towards us.

4. Butter – is carved into the shape of a lamb or a cross to represent Christ’s goodness.

5. Cheese – is shaped into a ball and symbolizes moderation in life

6. Eggs – symbolize fertility and new life in the resurrection of Christ.

7. Ham (or veal or lamb) – represents the abundance of Easter

8. Horseradish (mixed with red beets) – reminds us of the suffering of Christ (with a bitter taste and red representing blood.)

9. Salt – represents a Christian’s duty to others

10. Sausage – symbolizes God’s generosity

For a more detailed description of each of the basket items, read Carpatho-Rusyn Traditional Easter Basket and Recipes.

In addition to the church blessings of Easter, Easter Sunday is a day spent with family and friends. Everyone dresses in their best clothes and the day is spent playing games, singing and dancing.

Easter Customs of the Carpatho-Rusyn People gives an excellent account of Easter Sunday and Easter Monday activities in various Rusyn communities.

For anyone interested in baking paska, there are several recipes:

Slovak Easter Tradition: Paska

Lake Michigan Rusyns: Paska

Ukrainian Easter Bread

Chrystos Voskres!
Christ is risen!




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