Postcard from Ukraine : Willow Sunday

It took me a moment to connect the green fragrance reminiscent of jasmine buds and apples with the bunch of willow branches I held in my arms. I bought it at the entrance to the Mgarsky Monastery in Lubny, and I now stood in line to have my willow branches blessed by the priest who walked around the church courtyard, sprinkling people and their willow bouquets with holy water. Since palm trees don’t grow in Ukraine but willows do, the Sunday before Easter is called Willow Sunday. Mine smelled of sweet incense and willow blossoms.

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Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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46 Comments

  • Marsha: I felt like I was right there! April 27, 2016 at 8:28am Reply

    • Victoria: I did a tour of three different monasteries around Poltava, so it was a good weekend to visit them. April 29, 2016 at 6:40am Reply

  • sandra: so beautiful!
    I post card from New York from the island..
    Woke up to the sunrise since the baby decided 5 am was his wake up time..the clouds were pink and you can see tiny rays poking through the clouds, but, its a cloudy day so all disappeared. I drank warm tea and enjoyed all the colors and snuggles with my warm baby buddha April 27, 2016 at 8:35am Reply

    • Victoria: What a wonderful postcard from you, Sandra! xoxo April 29, 2016 at 6:40am Reply

  • spe: Grey skies and grey water here in Seattle.

    Thank you for sharing the Willow Sunday tradition! I can imagine the smell from your description and the event from your photography. The photo of the couple is lovely.

    What is done with the blessed branches? Keep them until next year, like palm branches? April 27, 2016 at 8:49am Reply

    • Victoria: The branches are usually kept for a few months and then they’re burned or buried, never just thrown out. In the olden days, people used to cut them up and steep them in vodka. Since willow contains salicylic acid, that tincture functioned sort of like aspirin. April 29, 2016 at 6:42am Reply

  • Gina Tabasso: I am 3/4 Ukrainian and didn’t know this. I always have had an affinity for weeping willows. Must be genetic. April 27, 2016 at 9:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Must be. 🙂 April 29, 2016 at 6:43am Reply

      • Gina Tabasso: 🙂 April 29, 2016 at 8:59am Reply

        • Victoria: My grandmother tells me that weeping willows are never blessed, only the white or red willows. But I love them all. May 1, 2016 at 6:16am Reply

          • Gina Tabasso: I am only familiar with weeping willows, not white or red! I will look them up. Thanks for new info. May 1, 2016 at 4:34pm Reply

            • Victoria: The red willow is what I smelled, but today I found out that weeping willows also have a wonderful scent. May 2, 2016 at 2:35pm Reply

    • bregje: I am not Ukranian(that i know of 😉 ) but i’ve always loved weeping willows. In the town where i grew up there were a couple of them near the water. Also the Monet painting(saule pleureur) moved me to tears.So beautiful.

      How wonderful that Ukraine celebrates willows 🙂 .
      I don’t know how the soft things on the branches are called in English but in Dutch they are called willow kittens/cats which is very appropriate i think ;).

      I must admit i’ve never really smelled them though.I will try to do so this week. May 3, 2016 at 2:27pm Reply

      • Victoria: In Ukrainian they are also called little cats, kotyky. 🙂 And yes, they have a wonderful scent, slightly sour and green. May 3, 2016 at 2:52pm Reply

        • B in Tx: They are such beautiful trees, and I have many childhood memories of picnics under them, by the river where they grew, in our Midwestern town.

          Thank you for sharing the lovely memories & traditions associated w/them… interesting about steeping them in vodka & the salicylic acid/willow bark! February 4, 2018 at 12:56am Reply

  • OperaFan: What a lovely alternate tradition – and the fragrance makes a nice bonus as well as reinforces your point that you can find scent just about everywhere you look if you’re open to it! April 27, 2016 at 9:50am Reply

    • Victoria: It was such a great discovery. I had no idea willow blossoms, which look like short dangling ropes, have any scent, although now I recall a Persian distillate from willow which is used like rosewater. April 29, 2016 at 6:44am Reply

  • Kandice: What a beautiful tradition! I’d love to see it someday. April 27, 2016 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: If you find a Ukrainian church near you and visit it on Sunday before the Orthodox Easter, I’m sure there will be willow blessing there. April 29, 2016 at 6:45am Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: What lovely photos of a beautiful tradition!
    Thanks for sharing it with us. April 27, 2016 at 10:11am Reply

  • AndreaR: How lovely! Pussy willows seem to be the tradition in western Ukraine, or at least that’s the tradition seen in our Ukrainian churches in America and Canada. Palms, willows, pussy willows are all wonderful harbingers of Easter/Pascha. April 27, 2016 at 11:27am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s the same across all of Ukraine, since willow grows all over the country. Usually, we took pussy willows (kotyky), but Easter is too late this year for them, and the white fluffy buds have by now turned to leaf. April 29, 2016 at 6:48am Reply

  • mj: Thanks for the postcard, the tradition and the pictures! April 27, 2016 at 11:52am Reply

    • Victoria: Is there a similar tradition in Spain for the Palm Sunday? April 29, 2016 at 6:48am Reply

  • Alicia: A lovely tradition, and beautiful photos, Victoria. My parents used to have a willow in a weekend house by a little river, but I can’t remember the smell at all. Since you say that it is green and, following your recommendation, i bought a bottle of Silences, which I like very much, I am going to wear it, and think of you. A this moment of troubling political circumstances, I’ll add my prayers to the priest’s blessings, for a world so much in need of peace. April 27, 2016 at 12:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you like Silences. It’s one of the most exquisite green perfumes, and wearing it always gives me a boost. April 29, 2016 at 6:50am Reply

      • B in Tx: I must try this, if I can find it… sounds lovely & soothing February 4, 2018 at 12:58am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Great postcard! How good to see that there is still tradition, joy and happiness in the world. April 27, 2016 at 1:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! Yes, there is still, always a good thought. April 29, 2016 at 6:51am Reply

  • Neva: I like the colors and the peace that radiates from your pictures. Interesting to know that in the Ukraine you have willows blessed the Sunday before Easter. Here in Croatia we have the same tradition but with olive branches. April 27, 2016 at 2:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: In Ukraine, willow is one of the most popular trees, and it flowers around Easter, so that’s probably why it has such an important role in the ceremony. Plus, all trees have numerous animistic associations, and willow is believed to cure many illnesses. April 29, 2016 at 6:56am Reply

  • Notturno7: Dear V,
    Beautiful post. I’ll imagine that’s you and your mom in the photos. My Grandpa on mom’s side of the family was an Orthodox priest before he retired and was incredible and loving man of whom I have only happy memories from my childhood. This made me think of him and all my grandparents and miss them.
    Thanks to all those incredible people in my family, man and women, I’m one of those rare cases of people who had a perfect childhood.
    Happy Easter😀💜 April 27, 2016 at 2:52pm Reply

    • Victoria: Such an uplifting comment. Thank you for sharing. 🙂 April 29, 2016 at 6:57am Reply

  • Notturno7: I forgot to say, it’s fresh, sunny and breezy in San Francisco area, after many hot summer days we had, and it feels like spring again, so I’m wearing Ostara that I found thanks to your review, and thinking of you and yours. It’s lovely 😍 April 27, 2016 at 2:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a breath of spring, isn’t it? April 29, 2016 at 6:57am Reply

  • zephyr: Willows – what a great tradition! I’m going to make a point of trying to find a willow that’s leafing out (most of our trees are doing that now) and inhale deeply!

    My family (German and French, though I think this is a German thing) has always hung egg ornaments with ribbons on pussy willow bushes at Easter. I don’t have one of those at my house, so I make an arrangement of pussy willow branches, put it in our big back bay window, and decorate it. It’s pretty and I love this custom.

    Most churches here use palms for Palm Sunday. Some are saved, and they’re burned to make the ashes used on Ash Wednesday the following year. Recycling!

    Happy Easter to you and your family, Victoria! April 27, 2016 at 11:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: There used be a big German community in Poltava, descendants of the people who were invited in the 19th century to develop the textile industry. Unfortunately, with the Stalin repressions and finally after WWII, few of them remain. But some of their traditions do, such as the decorated pussy willow branches. April 29, 2016 at 6:59am Reply

  • Aurora: Happy Willow Sunday, Victoria. It’s so interesting and enjoyable to learn more about Ukraine via your posts. I expect your grandmother with your help will prepare wonderful things to eat for Easter. Are you doing much gardening llike in previous years at the moment? April 28, 2016 at 7:49am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t done much gardening, apart from pruning roses and weeding strawberries. The weather has been too rainy, and after hurting my back last year, I’m taking things easy. But I’m about to launch into a whole day affair of making our Easter breads. April 29, 2016 at 7:00am Reply

      • AndreaR: Happy paska baking. It’s such a meditative process. Can’t be rushed and the house smells divine. I love the smell of yeast and the feel of the dough. And then all the beautiful baskets waiting to be blessed on Paska. April 29, 2016 at 12:58pm Reply

        • Victoria: When I cook with my grandmother, ours is rarely meditative. 🙂 We are just not that kind of family. But it’s still fun and yes,the house smells wonderful.

          Enjoy your Paskha preparations! April 29, 2016 at 1:45pm Reply

  • Katy McReynolds: So lovely. Thank you for the postcard. April 28, 2016 at 12:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re most welcome! April 29, 2016 at 7:01am Reply

  • Annie O: A hurricane knocked down our beautiful old Willow. My Mum and Husband thought it should be removed. I insisted that the top part which had broken, could go, but not the part still in the earth. I won, and now it is sending out shoots and regrowing itself. Soon she will once again give dancing shade over the driveway.
    Since a child, Willows always felt like the Goddess grown from the earth, to bring grace and a gentle expression to our lives. Given to headaches, I learned early that sucking on a green branch helped alleviate the pain. What a gift to all our lives. Thank you Victoria for your lovely postcard. April 28, 2016 at 3:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: A willow goddess! Yes, how true is your observation. It’s a stately and yet graceful beauty, and I’m delighted that you won and are rewarded with the tree’s second life. April 29, 2016 at 7:02am Reply

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