Easter in Russia is one of the most important Russian holidays, surpassing even Christmas in importance. The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Easter according to the Orthodox calendar, and it can occur in April or May. Like many countries in Eastern Europe, Russians celebrate Easter with decorated eggs and special foods and customs. Many Russians also thoroughly clean their house before the Easter holidays, and the Easter holiday in general is seen as a day of rest and family gathering.
The Russian Easter egg tradition dates back to pre-Christian times when people saw eggs as fertility symbols and as devices of protection--eggs represented new life. When Orthodoxy was adopted, eggs took on Christian symbolism. One example of this is how red eggs symbolize the blood of Christ. (Read more about red in Russian culture.) Though commercial dye may be used to color eggs, traditional ways of dying eggs include using onion skins collected for this purpose or other commonly found dyes in nature.
Faberge eggs are an interesting phenomenon arising out of the tradition of gifting others Easter eggs during this time. Russian tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II had the jewelry workshop of Carl Faberge create fantastical and whimsical eggs to present to members of their family. These eggs were made of precious metals or stones and encrusted with jewels or decorated with enamel work.
They opened to reveal a surprise: portraits of children, miniature palaces, a removable tiny carriage. These eggs, which were gifted over the course of many years before the fall of the royal family at the beginning of the 20th century, now appear in private collections and museums and have inspired egg decorating and production beyond the typical dip-dye of Easter eggs that many families participate in.
Russians celebrate Easter with a special breakfast or Easter meal. Russian Easter foods include kulich (Russian Easter bread), paskha (a dish made from cheese and other ingredients, usually formed into the shape of a pyramid), eggs, and other foods. Sometimes the food is blessed by the church before being eaten. Other traditions accompany the consumption of Russian Easter foods. Eggs may be cracked with nails as a reminder of Christ's suffering on the cross. Additionally, one egg may be cut into pieces - one piece for each family member at the Easter table. Those who have observed Lent will be breaking their fast, though this ritual is not very common and may be observed only by the especially devout.
The Russian Easter service may be attended even by those families that do not regularly attend church. Russian Easter service is held Saturday evening. Midnight serves as the high point of the service, at which point bells are rung and the priest says, "Christ is risen!" The congregation replies with, "He is truly risen!"