At this time of year it is fascinating to observe how different countries embrace different Easter celebrations. Kathryn Borg writes.
Easter in Russia: Easter in Russia is celebrated according to the rituals of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Apart from rites and rituals, the difference between Western Christians (Roman Catholics and Protestants) and Eastern Orthodox Christians is the date of Easter celebrations. In determining the vernal equinox, the Eastern Church uses the Julian calendar, while the Western Church employs the Gregorian calendar, which creates about 13 days difference between the two.
The Eastern Church calculates it from March 21 by its calendar, which lies on April 3 by the Gregorian calendar. While Western Churches hold Easter sunrise services, in the Russian Orthodox Church, services last all through Saturday night.
The congregation gathers in the church on Saturday evening and takes part in an Easter vigil commemorating the buried Christ. Orthodox churches in Russia have an inner sanctuary away from the reach of worshippers, with access for the priest only.
On this day, the door is closed until midnight, but at the stroke of midnight, the priest opens the door and comes out saying “Christ is risen! Christ is risen! Christ is risen!” and after hours of silent anticipation, the worshippers reply: “He is risen indeed!”
Another interesting Easter ritual in Russia is the Easter egg decoration. Easter egg decoration is an important part of Easter traditions in Russia. The predominant colour for egg dying in Russia is red. The red dye is chosen because it symbolises the blood of Christ. Furthermore, people crack the eggs open using nails, to remind themselves again of the death of Christ.
Another integral aspect of Easter celebrations in Russia is the family Easter dinner which is a community affair at the Church itself. Dinner is a sumptuous feast in which the entire congregation celebrates together.
Easter in Brazil: Easter celebrations in Brazil begin with Holy Week rituals, which involve the blessing of the palm branches, woven in intricate patterns representing crosses, banners, letters and other related objects.
As in many countries, worshippers in Brazil take processional walks, carrying statues of Mary and the body of Jesus Christ. ‘Pacoca’, a special Easter delicacy prepared by mixing crushed nuts and other ingredients, including sugar to form a paste, is given to visitors.
The world-famous Rio Carnival in Rio de Janeiro precedes the Easter celebration in Brazil. Carnival takes place during the days preceding Ash Wednesday, the first of 40 days of the Lent season.
‘Sambodromo’, a 700-metre-long parade strip, is thronged by a huge crowd of locals and tourists. On the last Sunday and Monday nights before Lent, the enchanted onlookers cheer up the Samba dance troupes participating in the jamboree.
Other towns and cities in Brazil, such as Recife, also have celebrations during the Carnival period that are well known for their folk-lore representations and two well-known folk dances – the Maracatu and the Frevo.
The streets are filled with shops and stalls selling Easter bunnies. On Easter day, gala carnivals are organised everywhere throughout the country, to commemorate the Resurrection. Worshipping the symbols of Easter is a popular custom in Brazil.
The Macela flower, which blooms only during Lent, is worshipped by the devotees of Jesus in the country. On Palm Sunday, people would bring the flower to the church service to receive the blessings of the priest.
The flower is then used as a herb, which is believed to cure many diseases. Traditionally, the recipes typical to the country are prepared at Easter. These include ‘clipfish’, chocolate Easter eggs and an Easter ring cake.
Easter in India: In India Christians all over the country make elaborate arrangements for Easter festivities. Worshippers attend church for special prayers and rituals on Easter Sunday. Although people do not decorate Easter eggs in India, they are aware of the oldest tradition of the festival and make it a point to purchase beautifully decorated Easter eggs from the stores and give them as presents to their children.
During the festival, Easter bunnies are also sold in stores. As part of the festivities, people exchange gift items. Goa, a Portuguese colony in the pre-Independent India, is one of the best Easter holiday destinations in India. In this small western state of India, street plays, songs, dances are staged during the festive occasion. Colourful carnivals are part of the festivities.
People in Christian homes bake Easter cakes for their loved ones. If it is not possible to bake a cake for the festival, they would at least purchase one, so that they can satisfy their children’s tastebuds.
The exchange of colourful lanterns is an Easter tradition in India. The Holy Cross is also exchanged by friends and relatives, once the church service is over. Due to the diversity in the lifestyle and culture in India, tastes vary from region to region. Therefore, you can find a lot of variety in the traditional recipes cooked for Easter.
In India, although Easter is not as popular as Christmas, Christians would ensure that the Resurrection is observed with great gusto. To serve the purpose, people have adopted the popular tradition of hosting a lavish lunch, dinner and Easter parties. Interesting games are arranged to keep up the festive spirits. You can also see small children making beautiful crafts for the festival.