Friday, April 6, 2012

Joyeux Pâques!

Easter turned out a little different last year; Roberts’s brother and Indra came to visit us on our first major holiday away from family, but in lieu of the Easter bunny, colored eggs and a big Easter Sunday meal we had the Gorges du Tarn, Puy de Dôme and the marché de potiers in nearby Gouttieres. I was somewhat disappointed in myself for not being able to continue any of the Easter traditions I had grown up with other than olu sišanās (or egg wars, you can read about this custom here, but resolved to try again this year.

With our visitors last year
The last week of Lent (Holy Week) for Latvians is called klusā nedēļa, with pūpolu svētdiena (which I explain in this previous post), zaļā ceturtdiena ("green" Thursday), lielā piektdiena ("big" Friday) and Easter Sunday. Some of the older pagan spring rituals to predict weather (in regards to planting crops), and promote health and fertility in crops and farm animals were carried over into the Christian celebration. Thursday and Friday were the days to be careful as the supernatural lurked all around, sickness and death would be attributed to carelessness on these days. In truth, the days before Easter were the days when the cellars and barns emptied of the last stores of the previous harvest and this years crops had not yet been planted, so hard winters and empty stomachs had a large impact on health. Not many of these ancient rituals have survived, although some of the basic ideas have endured. The coloring of eggs using onion skins is not among these pagan rituals, it only developed after the coming of Christianity. Eggs can be associated with rebirth and renewal, and this can be linked with the resurrection of Jesus as well as to their round shape, a symbol of the sun for our ancestors.

To Latvians Easter has always symbolized the victory of light and life over darkness (the coming of spring), and an old tradition is waking before the sun on Easter morning, and washing ones face in running water. This ritual promotes health, beauty and intelligence. I’m not sure about waking up that early (remember, Latvia is pretty far north and so the days are still much shorter), but the ritualistic washing is still done, albeit under running tap water and not in an outdoor stream.

Another tradition we still participate in to this day is šūpošanās, or swinging. It is a magical ritual that reflects the rising and setting of the sun, and not only helps the sun climb higher into the sky, but keeps away the mosquitoes the coming year!

Other traditions, especially concerning the egg, have slowly been forgotten. In my research for this post I found the following rules for the three days of Easter celebrations, and this list is only the beginning:
If you eat your egg without salt then your summer will bring many lies.
While boiling the eggs do not blow on the flame, nor talk or laugh or the eggs will crack.
If the egg peels easily the flax will grow well and be easily processed.
Eggs were taken to the cemetery, symbolizing rebirth also for the dead.
The swing must be hung high on a hill so that visible from afar, but never near a stream so that girls will not lose their vainadziņš (in this case a symbol of innocence)
The swings can not be left up after Easter as then eggs will not hatch in the coming year.
The swing can be burned after use, and then the witches can not use them. (! They really were serious about their swings !)

Our Easter eggs already colored using this traditional method, I thought back to other Easter traditions that were of importance to me as a child. One of the American customs that has been blended into our American-Latvian celebration is the egg hunt, sometimes accomplished indoors, sometimes outdoors. I could check this off the list as luckily Lauris had been able to join the IWC mom and baby group in this fun activity

Another custom for our family is to meet after church for a large Easter lunch. Ham is usually the main dish, and my grandmother’s paska always makes an appearance. I knew paska wasn’t a Latvian dish so I looked it up, and it turns out what we call paska is a dish borrowed from the Eastern Orthodox countries named after Pascha, the Eastern Orthodox celebration of Easter. Paskha or Pascha (Russian: Па́сха, "Easter") is a dish made during Holy Week and then brought to church on Saturday to be blessed, and contains those foods which are forbidden during the fast of Great Lent. Made from farmer's cheese or cottage cheese, which is white, the dish is supposedly a symbol of the purity of Christ. For my family it doesn’t have any symbolism, but has become a staple in the Easter feast.

And so in my effort to bring some of our family Easter traditions to our home in France, I followed my grandmother’s recipe as closely as I could. The recipe called for farmer’s cheese, but I substituted cottage cheese (which was as hard to find here in Clermont-Ferrand as were the white eggs!) and omitted the corinthes (which I’ve never really liked all that much, I prefer to serve up strawberries on the side). The result was not exactly as I remember, but I consider it as much of a success as our onion skin Easter eggs, and the olu sišanās.

I wish each and every one of you priecīgas Lieldienas, a happy Easter, and joyeux Pâques, and may your family traditions bring you as much happiness as have ours.

My grandmother's paska recipe
1/2 lb butter at room temperature
6 hardboiled eggs yolks
3 lbs farmer’s cheese
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup chopped hazelnuts
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 – 1 ½ cups corinthes
2 cups whipped cream

Using a mixer, blend the egg yolks and butter. Add the farmer’s cheese and vanilla, then continue mixing by hand. Combine the result with the powdered sugar, hazelnuts and corinthes and finally fold in the whipped cream.

Place mixture in a colander lined with cheese cloth, then fold the cheese cloth over the top. Put on a plate and place in refrigerator for at least one day.

Invert on a serving dish, garnish with strawberries or other fresh berries and serve! Bon appétit!


  1. This recipe looks delicious. I wll have to ask Cornel about this since he is Eastern Orthodox. I loved reading about your traditions.

  2. Hi nice to meet you, I came over from American Resident. Loving your photos of the little ones and the paska sounds delish!

  3. Ļoti interesanti - daudz ko iemācos no taviem ierakstiem! Vēl viena skaista fotogrāfija no brālīšiem (noteikti Laurītis VIENMĒR ir tik mīļš pret Mikus ;) Esmu laimīga, ka tev paska izdevās - nākamgad būs tas jāliek rindā blakus vecmammas un Kr. Daces! Man ir aizdomas, ka mana balss ies par tavu, jo dalu tavu uzskatu par korintēm!


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