My early childhood memories of Easter are of hunting plastic eggs filled with chocolate, of pastel-colored baskets and slippery fake grass made of clear cellophane that came massed in plastic bags like tinsel. Someone always gave us a chocolate rabbit - I don't know why, we never celebrated Easter - and I always ate the ears first while reading the Sunday morning comics, somewhat disappointed that the body of the rabbit was hollow. I remember dying eggs, dropping those tablets of dye that fizzed like Alka-Seltzer into cups of water and white vinegar - we only ever used white vinegar for this, once a year - slipping the hard-boiled eggs into the brightly-colored dye. Sometimes I would experiment with crayons or strings or rubber bands. And then all the eggs would have to be eaten, for breakfast or slipped into a lunch bag, which was not nearly as fun.
One year, I think I was in third or fourth grade, our class made Ukranian pysansky, drawing designs on our eggs with melted wax and dipping them in a series of colors. I think we even pierced the ends of our eggs and blew out the raw egg first, but I am not sure if I am imagining this first. My mother bought me a book about Ukranian Easter eggs, with pages of history and anecdotes about the history and the symbolism of the eggs, as well as other traditions of the Orthodox Easter. There were pictures and diagrams of fantastically elaborate designs, with flowers and ears of wheat and other patterns, far beyond anything my eight-year-old hands could produce. I think my later fascination with all things Russian had its first seeds planted here (along with music, and the ballet); it would stay with me, and probably will for the rest of my life.
Later, in college - by now I was studying Russian - I became friends with two girls, the middle of four sisters, whose family was American but whose parents had converted into Russian Orthodoxy in the 1970's or thereabouts. Actually their father was an Orthodox priest (and a truck driver when he wasn't being a priest, apparently). We ate borsch and pelmeni together, tossed back shots of icy-cold black-currant vodka in their living room, listened to Russian techno music together. Just before Lent came Maslennitsa, or Butterweek, which as I recall involved eating as many blini as humanly possible, each round, golden pancake dripping with butter and sour cream, a last bacchanalia before the Lenten fast to come. Because I wasn't Orthodox I was given the task of tasting the pashka (forbidden to those observing Lent) that would be served with the kulich, in order to make sure there was enough sugar or the texture was smooth and free of lumps; the former is a sort of creamy pudding, like cheesecake without the crust, made with Russian-style farmer's pot cheese (like a cross between ricotta and cream cheese) and almonds, raisins, and candied citrus peel. It was molded in a clean flowerpot lined with cheesecloth and accompanied by the kulich, which is rather like the Italian pannetone, also with raisins or currants and candied citrus peel, baked in a clean coffee can.
Now those eras have passed. Now on Easter I curl up with a few of those Cadbury creme eggs, filled with a tooth-jarring sugar paste that send a shock of sweetness through my senses. But I think of those earlier times, of dyed eggs and blini, of the creamy pashka spread on golden slices of currant-studded cake. Maybe the time for that will return, someday.
(I decided to work on my updates backwards. Maybe it will help me catch up faster. Maybe).