Russian Language Blog

Russian Easter. Can You Say “Христос Воскрес”? Posted by on Apr 16, 2014 in Culture, History, language, Traditions

 Easter eggs

Easter eggs

This year Пасха (Easter) in Russia and Easter here in US coincidentally fall on the same day, so I decided to give you an overview of what Easter is like in Russia.

First of all, forget the bunny; there is no Easter bunny in Russia. Also, forget the whole Easter basket for kids: Easter in Russia is not about hiding eggs or giving out candy-filled baskets. In a nutshell, Russian Easter boils down to stopping at church at some point of the day, dyeing eggs, baking куличи and getting together with family for a meal.

Lunar calendar is used to determine the exact date. Russian Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the spring full moon. This year, spring fool moon is on Tuesday, April 15th. That means Russian Easter will be celebrated on April 20th. 

People begin to actively prepare for Easter on Thursday. The Thursday before Easter is called Чистый or Светлый Четверг (Clean Thursday). On this day many people go to church to ask for forgiveness, to cleanse themselves from the sin, so to speak. It is also typical to clean the house, start красить яйца (dyeing eggs) and печь куличи (baking kulichi).

Traditionally, Russians use onion peels for egg dyeing. People usually start saving regular yellow onion peel a month or two before Easter. When the time comes, the eggs are boiled with the onion peel for quite some some; a reddish-brown color that develops as a result is rich and 100% natural. Today many people also use artificial dyes and decorative shrink wrap.

Куличи, along with eggs, are the two staples of Русская Пасха. Кулич is a special type of sweet bread made with yeast dough and decorated with egg-white frosting.

During the week preceding Easter, a lot of Russian churches hold всенощная — a service that lasts most of the night and includes ritual walking around the church for quite some time.

Easter is a family holiday in Russia. Armed with eggs and baked goods, you either go visit your family, have them visit you, or get together with friends if family is not around.

When greeting somebody on Easter, you would say Христос воскрес! (Christ has risen!) and the other person would respond Воистину воскрес! (Indeed he has!). You would then also exchange eggs.

Освящение куличей и яиц (blessing of kulichi & eggs) is another typical ritual that takes place during Easter week. You can bring your own food to church to have it blessed.

Lastly, most people play the egg game: two people smack the tips of their eggs together, the person whose egg survived the smack wins. The winner proceeds to smack eggs with other participants.

I have now officially mastered making yeast dough, but I am not baking any куличи this year; however, I will try to make some onion-dyed eggs!

Всего хорошего! 

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About the Author: Jenya

Born in Russia, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Orenburg, Russia and Mogilev, Belarus. For the last eleven years, I've lived in New Hampshire and Michigan, US. While I continue to absorb and adapt to American culture, I am always thrilled to share my Russian heritage with those who find it interesting. Travel, photography and art play a special part in my life. Twitter: @iamnx2u


  1. Nina Kirkland:

    I remember playing the egg game with my father when I was a girl. He usually won.

    Mama would have lots of Russian appetizers instead of a regular meal set out for us. It always included first saying a blessing together before we dived into the food. First a bit of the blessed food for everyone, then the rest of the fare as we wanted.

    There would be sausage and stewed sauerkraut; meat, cheese, or sauerkraut hand pies (piroshki); jellied beef and pork hocks (Holidets); Tomato, Cucumber & onion salad or Vinegret; of course, the Kulich and colored eggs that hadn’t been blessed and the sweetened pot cheese; pickles, pickled vegetable mix, spring onions. This was pretty much the standard food for at least one meal throughout the whole Bright Week following Easter Sunday with the last Kulich and blessed eggs being saved for Bright Sunday. At the Easter meal, papa always served wine with us kids getting a little bit as well. Then the harder liquor would come out for the grownups.

    After the more than 6 week of preparing for this holiday, we were all joyful on this day. But that’s another story.

    • Jenya:

      @Nina Kirkland Nina, thank you so very much for sharing this! Your food description made my mouth water 🙂 .

  2. Chris:

    Few corrections here. The Easter vigil service beginning Saturday night is technically a “полунощница” (midnight office) followed by a matins “утреня” and divine liturgy (“божественная литургия”). “Всеношная” should be “Всенощное [бдение]” (with the щ and in the neuter to modify the word for “vigil”), and is usually served on Saturday nights or evenings before major feast days and consist of vespers (“вечерня”), matins, and a short reader service.

    As well, the week before Easter in the Russian Orthodox Church is known as “Страстная седмица,” with each day known as “great” rather than “clean,” such as “великий пяток” (from the Church Slavonic for “Holy Friday”). “Clean Thursday” is part of “Clean Week,” which occurs during the first week of Lent, which begins with the Forgiveness Vespers on Sunday before Clean Monday. The Thursday before Easter and Holy Friday (“Великий Четверг”) has two services–a liturgy in the morning and a lengthy matins service for Holy Friday, in which 12 long Gospel readings are done in a darkened, candle-lit church.

    Lastly, the common greeting “Христос воскрес” is correct in Russian, but in church you’ll hear “Христос воскресе!” with the extra “е,” following Church Slavonic grammar.

    • Jenya:

      @Chris Chris, thanks for the feedback. However, I have to disagree with most of what you said, with the exception of the spelling of the word всенощная (I am used to seeing it spelled both ways but technically, yes, всеноЩная is the proper way, I’ll make corrections in the post). Going further down the list…
      -Saying бдение after всенощная is completely voluntary, you’ll be understood either way, in this case the word becomes a noun (see this article). The service does occur on Saturday in many cases, however, many churches have their own schedule nowadays and prefer to have it earlier in the week.
      -Technically, the service can last as little as 3 hours in some churches but they would still call it всенощная. We are not discussing the exact details and all possible variations of the Russian Orthodox services, my intent was to give an overview of what the holiday is like for a typical Russian person.
      -Чистый четверг and Великий четверг are the same thing – it is definitely the Thursday before Easter (see article). Perhaps, you used this article for reference but I find that is is not descriptive enough. In my experience, more people call it Чистый четверг, that is why I went with Чистый and not Великий.
      -“Христос воскресЕ” can certainly be heard inside, as well as outside of church, however this is what we would call old Russian, a lot of people prefer to say “Христос воскрес”. Either version is correct but I believe the newer one is easier for a foreigner to pronounce 🙂 .

  3. Chris:

    Интересно! I apologize for my going into so much detail; it’s just I’ve neither heard of the traditions for “Чистый четверг” among my Russian Orthodox friends here and in the motherland before or seen them carried out in church. It reminds me more of the beginning of Great Lent, and I also had assumed they were more Greek traditions, but it seems they’re observed in Russia too! I’ll have to pay more attention next time I’m in Russia for the Lent/Easter season. 🙂

  4. zezagpolla:

    So interesting .. I enjoyed reading your post … spasibo 🙂

  5. Ashley:

    You assume that Easter in America is all about the Easter Bunny but that is a commercialized concept. Easter in America is just as much about church and family as it is in any other country.

  6. Jenya:

    Ashley, I am sorry if I came accross that way. I know that in US the holiday is also very much about family and going to church. I was just trying to point out that Easter bunny does not exist in Russia, and overall, yes, the holiday is much more commercialized in US 🙂 .

  7. Jim Fryar:

    Thank you for the post on Russian Easter. I have a Russian fiancé, from Vyborg. We have been “together” three years and we talk almost daily on Skype.
    Sometimes, what she tells me does not translate as well as we would like. I could not understand “clean Thursday” until I read your post. Tatiana explained it as more of cleaning her flat and everything in it.
    I do understand the baking, with the rounded cake covered with a dome-shaped top and white icing. Apparently, this is traditional in her family.
    We are both excited about our time together in the future, which will (most years) include 2 Easters and 2 Christmases. She has been here for the Fourth of July and is eager to experience Christmas.
    We plan on being together by the start of autumn, but still have many details to arrange. So many questions, and so many obstacles, both large and small. I understand how brave you were to make this move.

    • Jenya:

      @Jim Fryar Jim,
      Thanks a lot for reading! I wish you the best of luck. It is indeed very challenging to make international relationships work. It does take a lot of learning and patience! Biggest mistake, in my opinion, Russian girls make is assuming that people here are made out of money; for some reason it is hard for them to grasp that if you make $4000, you also spend $4000 in bills and such. The biggest mistake American men make, again in my opinion, is assuming that just because you made it to America you somehow automatically adjust and know everything about life here within days or weeks. It might be good for both of you to read and discuss a post about a typical American vs a typical Russian.