Ukrainian Easter Food

Easter for Ukrainians it is a second big celebration, after Christmas. I would say, Easter has much wider meaning for every Ukrainian than just a religion meaning – it is a celebration of a spring spirit and a celebration of good food. It is a perfect reason for families and friends to get together.
40 days before the Easter Ukrainians have to keep a tradition of the Great Lent – meat free, dairy free and egg free. In other words, it is like a big spring cleaning of your health, especially after a long and snowy winter.
Meat, eggs and dairy products, according to the Greek-Catholic and Orthodox traditions (two major religions in Ukraine) you allowed to eat on an Easter day and all the days after that – till next lent.
Also, you cannot simply eat meat, eggs and dairy on an Easter Sunday without blessing your food in a church first, so you have to prepare your Easter food basket. Preparing such a basket it is really big deal for every Ukrainian, especially for the women of the house (normally in Ukraine all the cooking, baking and preserving food done by women).
So, what is has to be in a Ukrainian Easter food basket? 
Pysankas, which are nicely decorated hard boiled eggs (with shells on – otherwise, how can you decorate?)
Paska, which is sweet egg bread with raisins
Meat products – sausages (mostly garlic ones), ham, smoked bacon (whole piece)
Horseradish root or horseradish with beets (very often both)
Dairy products – butter, cottage cheese or farmer cheese
These are traditional basics. Other food items that you maybe want to put in your Easter basket are optional. Nowadays I saw plenty of different things people are bringing to bless, like fruits and vegetables, cookies, candies, chocolate etc. Actually, yes, you can fill up your Easter basket with any kind of foods you like, but those traditional basic products for blessing are MUST. Very-very basics are eggs, Paska (sweet egg bread), sausage and a horseradish, so you can skip dairy products, if you didn't have time to prepare them or some other reason. That’s what I, when I used to live in Ukraine (I was born over there), normally did for Easter food – I just kept my eye on basics when it was time to prepare my Easter basket; and that's what busy hardworking people in Ukraine do for their Easter food – taking care of very basic items – eggs, bread, meat and horseradish. 
Well, take a look at my best friend Olya’s and my Easter food baskets from different years - when Olya and I used to live in Ukraine:
Easter Food Baskets, West Ukraine

Easter Food Basket, Western Ukraine

Easter Food Basket, West Ukraine
As you can see, we had very basic foods in our baskets – Paska breads, eggs, meat products and a horseradish with beets. Also, we put in our baskets something modern to bless - chocolate bunny rabbits.
Another big deal for every Ukrainian lady preparing her Easter basket is to decorate the basket nicely – with some greenery, like vinca, myrtus or fern, and some painted wooden Easter eggs or beaded Easter eggs, a candle and an embroidered cover.
A blessing an Easter food baskets is held on Saturday night, before the Easter Sunday, or very early at the morning, on an Easter Sunday – depend on a church schedule.
The ceremony of blessing is really, really nice and festive. Ukrainians like to bring entire family, with kids and grand-kids to a ceremony. People are lining up with their Easter food baskets on the church's front yard, waiting for a priest with Holy Water to bless the baskets. Just like here, in one of the churches in the city of Ternopil, West Ukraine:
Easter in Ukraine Blessing Food Baskets
Easter food also can be blessed inside of the Church - Ukrainian Church in Edmonton, Canada, Easter 2010:
Blessing Easter Baskets in Ukrainian Church of Edmonton, Canada
So, an Easter food baskets are blessed! On an Easter Sunday morning Ukrainians traditionally have an Easter breakfast. Or Easter brunch, if time is close to afternoon.
Here is a picture of my best friend Olya, preparing an Easter brunch - it was an Easter 2007 in Ukraine: 
Easter Brunch in Ukraine
Next picture is – Olya’s Easter brunch is served; time to have an Easter feast!
Easter Brunch, West Ukraine
As you can see, nothing fancy on the table; additionally to traditional Easter food items, Olya put some marinated tomatoes, a bottle of good red wine and sliced rye bread, for the meat. That’s how an Easter brunch table looks like nowadays in a modern Ukrainian hardworking family (here is more about modern Easter in Ukraine). 
When I used to live in Ukraine, I served a similar festive table for my family – on the picture below, it was an Easter 2006:
Easter Brunch, Western Ukraine
After I moved to Canada, I keep Ukrainian traditions for an Easter - my husband and I have a Ukrainian Easter brunch every year for our family and friends. 
Here are few pictures from celebration of Ukrainian Easter 2012 in our Canadian home. The brunch is served  – hard boiled eggs, meat cold cuts, raisin bread, rye bread and beets-horseradish: 
My Ukrainian Easter 2012 in Canada waiting for our guests

My Ukrainian Easter 2012 in Canada
My special woman’s joy for an Easter 2012 was this cute egg caddie from Anthropologie store, given me as a gift by my husband’s brother family:
My Egg Caddie from Anthropologie with Easter Eggs
Actually, I could make deviled eggs – they would look beautifully in this caddie (well, maybe, this year), but I wanted to keep a Ukrainian tradition when hard boiled eggs suppose to be eaten with a horseradish side. Living in Ukraine, besides having a beets-horseradish on an Easter table, I liked to grate a horseradish root itself, on a top of eggs. I can do it now in Canada – finally I am growing my own horseradish at our garden!
Happy Ukrainian Easter 2013 to everyone who celebrates it!