Traditional Ukrainian Ritual Breads
by Darlene Litchie - August, 2003
Ukraine has long been known as the ‘breadbasket of Europe´. Bread, in general, is considered to be sacred among Ukrainian people. Wasting bread is considered sinful. Moreover, a variety of traditional breads play an important role in Ukrainian cultural and religious customs and beliefs. To this day, various breads are used during specified holidays and ceremonies.
Kolach ~ Christmas
Kolach is the Ukrainian Christmas bread. Kolach is a ring shaped, braided bread. Three round kolachi, one on top of the other, with a candle in the middle, is an essential component of the Christmas Eve Supper or Sviata Vechera. Kolach is a very old symbol of good luck, eternity, prosperity, bountiful life, and general welfare. Kolach may also be used at memorial services for deceased family members or loved ones. This bread is always made from wheat flour.
Babka ~ Easter
This is a very rich, yeast raised cake bread, which contains raisins, that is traditionally served at Easter. The babka is always baked in a tall cylindrical pan. The babka is also sometimes called a baba. Baba means grandmother or woman in Ukrainian. There may be an association between the babka and the fertility of the spring season and the value of women in ancient Ukrainian culture and society. The babka is placed in the Easter basket, which is taken to church on Easter morning, and is then blessed along with the other traditional foods. This ceremony is very impressive; the priest chants prayers and blesses the rows of baskets, while the choir sings the traditional Easter hymn ~ Christ is Risen or Khrystos Voskres.
Paska ~ Easter
The paska is a rather rich, round shaped Easter bread. This bread is usually elaborately decorated with dough ornaments such as crosses, braids, flowers, leaves, and doves. This bread is also taken to church on Easter morning along with the other foods that will be blessed within the Easter basket. Other foods which are found in the traditional Easter basket include butter, cottage cheese, horseradish & beet relish, keeshka (buckwheat sausage), kovbassa (garlic sausage), ham, salt, and hard boiled eggs. The basket may also be decorated with pysanky (Ukrainian decorated eggs) or krashanky (Ukrainian colored eggs, usually red), as well as with dough doves, pussy willows, spring flowers and a beautifully embroidered cloth. These wonderful foods contribute to a glorious meal, which follows church, marking the end of Lent and in celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Korovai ~ Wedding Bread
The korovai is the most significant of all of the Ukrainian wedding breads. The korovai is decorate with symbolic figures made of dough; cones symbolize fertility, birds or doves represent love and faithfulness. This bread may also be decorated with symbols of the sun or the moon, or with a floral design. The korovai is also often decorated with myrtle, periwinkle and other herbs. This bread is considered to be holy. Therefor, when a guest is offered a piece of this wedding bread, it is customary to use a napkin, rather than to hold the bread in your bare hands, as a sign of respect.
Shyshka ~ Wedding Bread
This bread is in the shape of a pine cone and it is an ancient symbol of fertility. It is customary for the newlywed couple to present the shyshka to their guests. The Presentation of Bread and Salt It is customary, when greeting guests, to make a presentation of bread and salt. This presentation, which is called a ‘Priveet´, is normally made out of respect to a special guest of some significance. Furthermore, this presentation may be made in an effort to show that one appreciates a significant visitor.