On a balmy spring evening, Tanya Meyer waits with other Russian Orthodox parishioners along the pathway to Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral in Los Angeles. On a bench before her are dozens of loaves of tall, cylindrical kulich ― a festive sweet yeast bread ― including her own, which her mother taught her to make decades ago.
As the priest, Father Joseph, approaches to bless the loaves on this Russian Easter eve, Meyer hastily lights a candle atop her kulich. Later, her family will break their Lenten fast with a lavish buffet that includes the blessed bread.
The crowd swells to pack the cathedral, and minutes before midnight, a flame is passed to light candles members of the congregation are holding. At the stroke of 12, bells ring in joyful chorus, and the clergy leads worshipers outside, through azalea-filled gardens and around the building. Then the procession reenters the brightly lit church for services that last until about 3 a.m.
Every year in April, similar Russian Easter celebrations take place across the land.
The earliest Russian settlements in Alaska date back to the 18th century, but it is 20th-century immigration that has swelled the number of Russian Orthodox Americans ― particularly in the Northwest, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York ― who continue to observe the holiday traditions of the old country. Like Meyer's, most families include in their festivities a buffet of many dishes: fish (smoked, pickled, and marinated), warm or cold roasts (ham and turkey), and sausages; salads, pickled vegetables, and dark breads; colored eggs; and, most important, the rich kulich loaves and paskha, a sweet and simple homemade cream cheese spread to slather onto slices of the kulich.
A Russian Easter table is both a gracious and a relaxed way to entertain. In Russian Orthodox homes, the meal is served following midnight services, as a brunch, or as midday dinner. And it's an easy menu for Easter or any other party ― composed of make-ahead dishes and presented like a smorgasbord, with little plates to refill at each diner's own pace.