All About Easter in Russia

When Is Easter in Russia?

The cool thing about celebrating Easter in Russia is that the celebration is usually twice as long because Russian Easter typically falls a week or more after ‘Catholic’ Easter. The reason for this is that the Orthodox Easter is based on the old Julian Calendar while the Western countries follow the Gregorian Calendar.

In February of 1918, Russia switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. However, the Orthodox Church prefers to use the Julian calendar to calculate the date of Easter.

Holy Week (Страстная Неделя)

  • Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) is known in Russia as Willow Sunday (Вербное воскресенье). Pussy willows are used here in place of palms since they are more readily available in this part of the world. On this day, people take pussy willow branches to the church to be blessed.
  • Thursday (Чистый Четверг) is a day of cleaning and cooking. Thursday morning is spent baking kulich (a dessert bread similar to the Italian Panettone dessert) and paskha (a cottage cheese type of dessert). This is no easy feat for bakers who are closely following the eating restrictions. Not able to lick the bowl and having the sweet smell of the dessert bread fill the air as it’s fresh out of the oven, one must have stone-cold reserve that will only be rewarded on Easter morning when they can finally sit with their families and eat this delicious food.

Many Russians go to the banya on Thursday and also dye eggs on this day of the week. Some prefer to dye eggs on Saturday.

  • Friday (Страстная Пятница) is the strictest day of the holy week. Followers can only eat special bread and potatoes and drink water.
  • On Saturday, believers and non-believers gather their Easter food and eggs in a basket or bag and head to the church to have it blessed. Everyone lines up and the priest uses a brush dipped in a bucket of holy water to sling drops of water over the baskets of food. Alternatively, in some cathedrals holy water is spread out on the table and people take their food out of the bag and set it on the table.

On Saturday evening, church goers done their best clothes and go to church around 7 or 8pm (each church has a different schedule). The most dedicated will stay until the ceremony ends sometime the next morning.

**In St. Petersburg, the main service is held at Kazan Cathedral and at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. On Easter, the metro will stay open and buses will run 24/7.

Easter (Пасха)

Pascha comes from the Hebrew word pesach which means Passover. On Easter, families have breakfast together around a beautifully decorated table with the blessed food, eggs and decorative elements such as willow branches and fresh flowers

Easter breakfast typically consists of all the foods forbidden during lent: meat, bacon, cheese, milk, kulich, paskha and Cahors (a holy wine).

On Easter Sunday, you may hear someone say to you “Христос Воскресе!”  which means ‘Christ has risen.’ You can respond with, “Воинственны Воскресе!” meaning, ‘Indeed, he has risen!’

Families of non-believers may celebrate Easter in a similar way by observing Spring cleaning, egg dying and maybe even going to church to have their Easter basket blessed. They also enjoy Easter breakfast together and many may go to the cemetery on this day taking eggs, kulich and even beer to the graves so that their relatives may enjoy it too. Others observe this grave-side tradition on Monday or even Tuesday. Many may also meet with Godmothers and Godfathers on Easter.

Kulich and pussy willow branches were left on the Technologichesky Institute metro bomb memorial bench Saturday before Easter.

Egg Dying – the Russian Way

The most traditional way to dye Easter eggs in Russia is with white onion peels.

Eggs are decorated with greens, stockings, stickers and paints. It’s also common to rub eggs with a bit of vegetable oil to make them shiny.

Today many dye eggs with colored dyes, special crayons used to draw on the eggs and egg wraps too.

Easter Egg Game

Egg tapping – holding the egg, hit your opponent’s egg with the intent to crack it. The winner is said to have good luck for the year!

For more on upcoming Russian holidays, check out our post on Scarlet Sails!