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Orthodox Easter

The feast of the Resurrection of Jesus, called Paskha (or Pascha, Orthodox Easter) in Russia and Catholic Easter Day usually fall on different dates as different calendars are used to calculate the dates in Eastern and Western traditions. Normally Eastern (Orthodox) Easter is one week later then Western one. So when Catholics celebrate Easter Orthodoxies celebrate "Willow Sunday." (Palm Sunday).

Easter is the main spring feast. It is a light and kind feast that brings belief, hope and love.

In ancient times in Russia people cleaned the houses, and washed themselves in banya, purchased the food for the celebration, baked kulichi (fancy cakes) and paskhas (cheesecake, which has been traditionally eaten on Easter), dyed eggs in boiled onion skins. Kulichi were bakes for one's folks, for guests, for servants and for the pooor. Traditionallty the whole baby pig was roasted. Dyed eggs were laid on the wooded dish, decorated with flowers and greenery.

On Saturday night congregation gathered in the church or cathedral to take part in Ester night service. Easter sunrise services were marked by tolling of bells all over the place. Everyone could try being a bell ringer, that day and got no refusal.

Traditionally Russians visited the poor in hospices, collected money to pay ransom for imprisoned debtors, fed pilgrims and tramps in their houses on Easter day and during the next week.

Easter can be consideered a reborn holiday in Russa as it was not so widely celebrated during the Soiviet times. It was not banned either each family chose to celbrate it or not. Nowadays even political leaders aim at taking a part in Easter vigil that is held in churches and cathedrals throughout the night (in the East especially in Russia, Easter services still last all through Saturday night).

Sociological research shows that Easter is the second popular celebration after the New Years. Even though not all Russian consider them believers and only about 10% keep the fast (in Orthodox tradition Lent lasts eight weeks and finishes with Easter celebrations), for the majority of people Easter is a special, anticipated and very meaningful holiday.

Russian name of the holiday is Paskha. This word has Jewish origin ("pasqua") and means passing with Christ to the other life, or deliverance from death.

As mentioned above, in the Russian Easter church service starts the night before. Russians either go to church or stay at home and watch the service on television. Directly after this ceremony and for several days thereafter, a ritual takes place, usually between friends (though complete strangers may also be involved). One person goes to another and says "Khristos voskres!" (Christ is risen!) The other must answer, "Voistinu voskres!" (He is risen indeed!) and then they kiss three times and exchange Easter eggs. Directly after church that night, the Lenten fast is broken and meals with eggs, butter, and meat are allowed by the Church (fasting in the Russian Orthodox Church is more severe).

All Paskha week, celebratory tables burst with many different dishes. People feast with rich meals including meat, eggs, and other items that were forbidden during the forty days of the Fast. On the eve of Easter, people cook special dishes. They bake a wide variety of Easter cakes, including Easter cottage cheese cakes. People also usually paint eggs on the day before Easter and take them to the church to be consecrated.

One the symbols of the Russian Easter celebrations is an Easter egg. Russian Easter eggs are of two different types. Some, called "krashenki," are dyed red by boiling eggs with onion skins. Others, known as "pysanky," hand-painted.

For the Easter celebrations there are more people in churches than usual, although a majority of Russians stay at home. Even if they do not go to church on Easter Sunday, most families still dye eggs and partake in a family ritual that takes place in most homes.

The ritual is a game, almost like a competition. The family sits at the table and everyone chooses an egg, then one of the family members (for example, a child) holds his egg firmly in his hands and lets another family member (for example, the mother) hit the egg in his hands with her egg. One of the eggs breaks, and the one with the unbroken egg wins and has the opportunity to hit the eggs of other family members. Eventually, one egg will remain unbroken and it may be saved for other tournaments since it is now Easter time and one may eat as much as he wants. The last person to win can eat an egg, can choose another egg and repeat the tournament with somebody, or somebody may lend him his egg if he does not want it. Even those who do not go to church on Easter Sunday go through this competition. It is especially popular in families with young children.

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