As we celebrate Easter today, my thoughts are with my Canadian-born Ukrainian friends. Their Orthodox celebrations will be held next week and I’m sure they will be subdued this year. It’s hard to think of anything Ukrainian as subdued though. The memories I have of my Ukrainian friends are filled with color, music, dance and enormous pride in their culture.
I met these friends back in grade school, a melting pot where French & English Canadian children learned to read and write side-by-side with children of Italian, Polish, Ukrainian and other descent. I learned more about their traditions through them than any book could have taught me.
Easter, for example, meant that my Ukrainian classmates would be decorating Easter eggs. Unlike the clumsy creations most of produced, theirs were pure works of art. And no wonder. The technique is time-consuming and uses hot beeswax and dye to create ornate designs and patterns of breath taking beauty. Called pysanky eggs, the tradition dates back to the pre-Christian era when eggs were thought to have great powers including protecting homes from fire, preventing famine and ensuring good health.
One legend tells of an evil monster. The more pysanky people made, the tighter the chains were wrapped around the monster, keeping it at bay so that it didn’t destroy the world. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to put a face to that monster in world events of today.
There was no lying in bed or watching cartoons on Saturday mornings for my Ukrainian friends. Saturdays were for Ukrainian school and dance lessons. They didn’t seem to mind, though, because their parents had instilled such pride in their culture in them. And when the annual Christmas concert came around, the rest of us wished we could have gone to the dance lessons too.
The concert always had a Ukrainian dance number. It doesn’t do it justice to call it simply a dance number; it was performance-art. The girls would enter the stage to lively music as if they were skipping on air. They wore wide skirts embroidered in red, green and gold, a crown of coloured paper flowers on their heads with ribbons streaming behind and wide smiles. But it was their shiny red boots I coveted and loved best of all.
Then the boys would leap onto the stage in their Cossack pants tied at the waist with a satin sash. Their strength and athleticism was impressive. Squat kicks, pirouettes, split leaps -they did it all. These were my classmates – how did they all learn to do this?
The pride, resilience and strength of Ukrainian people has been on display for the world to see for more than 40 days now. So on this Easter day, my thoughts and memories are with them. May this conflict end soon.
P.S.: Whether you celebrate Easter, Passover or Ramadan – Happy Holidays!