How Easter is Celebrated in Russia

Russian Easter Traditions

Easter service in Russia
spbpda/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

If you happen to be traveling in Russia during Easter time, for those Russians who are religious, Easter 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, special foods, and customs. For example, it's customary for many Russians to thoroughly clean their house before the Easter holidays, similar to the American version of "spring cleaning." However, Easter day is observed as a day of rest and family gathering.

Russian Easter Eggs

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 renewal or new life. When Russian Orthodoxy was adopted, eggs took on Christian symbolism. One example of this is how red eggs symbolize the blood of Christ. The color red has strong symbolism in Russian culture. Though commercial dye may be used to color eggs, traditional ways of dying eggs include using red onion skins collected for this purpose or other commonly found dyes in nature.

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 to eat. Those who are strictly observing Orthodox Lent would be breaking their fast from meats, which includes eggs, though this ritual is not very common and may be observed only by the especially devout.

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 like portraits of children, miniature palaces, or 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.

Faberge eggs have inspired egg decorating and production beyond the typical dip-dye of Easter eggs annually done throughout homes in America.

Russian Easter Foods

In addition to the importance placed on eggs during this holiday, Russians celebrate Easter with a special breakfast or Easter meal. Russian Easter foods include kulich, or Russian Easter bread, or paskha, which is a dish made from cheese and other ingredients that are usually formed into the shape of a pyramid. Sometimes the food is blessed by the church before being eaten. 

Russian Easter Service

The Russian Easter service may be attended even by those families who 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 has risen!" The congregation replies, "He has truly risen!"