Easter is the greatest religious holiday, even greater than Christmas, in most countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Details of celebration differ in various countries, but this account of Easter in Poland can be considered representative of the region.
In ancient times, the arrival of spring was an occasion for special rituals. When Christianity arrived in these countries, many of these ancient customs were incorporated into the Easter rites of the church to commemorate the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.
Poland is predominantly Roman Catholic, but also has sizable Orthodox and Protestant communities, in which the celebration is similar.
The 40 day long period of Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday, is a time of abstinence and fasting, although in recent times strict fasting is only observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Holy Week commences on Palm Sunday, with ceremonial Masses and processions in, or around, the churches in which the celebrants carry representations of palm leaves, or fresh branches of the willow tree.
Holy Week is a time for fasting and visiting the city churches to view the elaborate altars decorated with scenes depicting the Crucifixion and Christ's tomb. Holy Thursday and Friday are the days on which the churches are most crowded with people viewing the groby as these displays are called. Church bells are silenced and altars are covered with purple cloth.
On Holy Saturday, the women take baskets of food to the churches to be blessed. Some families might arrange for a priest, a friend of the family, to come to their home and bless the whole table which was already prepared for the Easter dinner. Late on Saturday evening ringing of the bells in all the churches commemorates the Resurrection of Christ. In military barracks guns are fired. This also signifies the end of the fast.
In Catholic and Orthodox churches, the Easter Sunday services celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, are especially ceremonious with processions and singing and the burning of incense.
After Easter Sunday church services, guests and family return home to share a piece of hard-boiled egg that had been blessed and wish each other "Happy Easter". Then they sample the collection of cold meats, hams, sausages, vegetable salads, gaily colored Easter eggs Pisanki and cakes set out on the white tablecloth. A baranek, a figure of the Paschal lamb decorates the center of the table, made either of plaster or white sugar. Naturally this is also a proper occasion for numerous toasts, each accompanied by a swallow of cold vodka.
All Easter Sunday and Monday it is traditional to go visiting friends and family, bringing good wishes and sampling the dishes every house has arranged on the table (see link to Polish recipes, ).
Another Polish and Lithuanian folk custom is the sprinkling of water Dyngus on Easter Monday morning. Naturally children think this is great fun and a lot of parents get woken up with a splash of cold water on their heads! The custom of young men dousing girls with water on Easter Monday still exists in several other countries.
In all the other countries of Eastern Europe the celebrations are similar but have some significant differences. Please go to the referenced links for full details and recipes..
In Bulgaria the Easter eggs are without designs, only colored, predominantly red. The church choirs are renowned for their rich singing .
The Czech Easter page provides an example of customs in the province of Moravia.
In Hungary, on Palm Sunday flowers are also blessed.
In Lithuania and Poland, branches of juniper or pussy-willow are brought to church on Palm Sunday.
In Romania, after the late evening church services on Holy Saturday, people parade through the streets carrying lighted candles.
In Slovakia, in some villages children carried garlands of willow branches and hollow, colored eggshells to church on Palm Sunday.
In Slovenia, at the beginning of Easter week, children have a contest to see who can make the most magnificent bundle of flowers, greens and ribbons tied on a stick. They are then blessed on Palm Sunday.
Ukraine is famous for the beauty of its traditional Easter eggs pysanky. See the recipe for Paska on the linked page.
The date for Easter varies from year to year. Also the Greek Orthodox church has never adapted its calendar to the current Gregorian calendar observed in the rest of the world. Therefore the dates in Eastern European countries that follow the Orthodox calendar ( Bulgaria, Greece, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine) are different. The following table provides the dates for Easter Sunday for the next few years.