If you are traveling in Russia during Easter time, you'll notice that for religious Russians, usually Russian Orthodox, 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 so 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 a time for the family to gather.
Russian Easter Eggs
The Russian Easter egg tradition dates back to pre-Christian times when people saw eggs as fertility symbols and as symbols 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 a strong symbolism in Russian culture. Though commercial dye may be used to color eggs today, traditional ways of dying eggs include using red onion skins collected for this purpose or other commonly found natural dyes.
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 observing Orthodox Lent would be breaking their fast from meats, which includes eggs at the Easter meal. The ritual is no longer very common and may be observed only by the most devout.
Faberge eggs are an interesting phenomenon arising out of the tradition of gifting Easter eggs to others during this time. Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II commissioned the jewelry workshop of Carl Faberge to 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-dyeing of Easter eggs 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!"