Easter in the Soviet Union was officially non-existent. Ordinary people were not encouraged to celebrate religious holidays ‒ especially Easter or Christmas – and were most certainly not given time off work to do this. It was only the older generation – those who had retired ‒ who could go to church, but even that was frowned upon by the authorities. But this didn’t stop Russians celebrating Easter: you always knew it was Easter time because the shops would be totally sold out of eggs. This made breakfasts tricky: a traditional Russian breakfast comprised eggs with a piece of a thick sausage – “kolbasa” in Russian ‒ or a couple of small thin sausages, a bit like the ones in England, called “sossiski”. So, no eggs would mean porridge mornings.
Good Soviet citisen though she was, my mother would always dye eggs for Easter. The eggs bought in the shop were usually white, so using a bit of onion skin she would make them orangy-brown. This was fun for us, having these coloured eggs for breakfast. Then, on Easter Sunday we would go to visit Grandma, who would give us more eggs and a piece of “kulich” blessed in church. When we come to her flat, she would open the door and say, “Christos Voskres!” (Christ is Risen!) and we were to reply, “Voistinu Voskres!” (Indeed, He is Risen!) and we would exchange a kiss three times on alternate cheeks.
My Grandma went to church regularly. For Easter she would make her own “kulich”, something like a thick round bread with raisins, and she would dye eggs, and would take all that to church to be blessed. She would go on the Easter eve, to participate in the celebrations which would take place through the night. She would also fast for about 40 days – the Lent is the longest fast in the Christian calendar. Easter Sunday would be treated as a holiday (it was at the weekend, after all), with lots of salads, meat and chicken, and, of course, samogon – home-made vodka that my Grandma was famous for. It was a shame that you had to keep quiet about this when you went to school the following Monday. Lenin’s words “Religion is opium for masses” was a popular slogan used by the Communist party and one adhered to by many Russians. So you could never be sure, if you mentioned your family’s Easter celebrations, your friends wouldn’t tell on you to the teacher who would usually be a Party member.
What makes me laugh is that all those people at the top, who did not allow the ordinary people to pursue their religious beliefs and to perform their religion’s rituals, go to church now, light candles and pretend to be pious – hypocrisy in the highest!