Blessed by the Blessing of Easter Baskets
Growing up a typically American kid, I expected the Easter Bunny to leave me an Easter basket full of chocolates and jelly beans on Easter morning. However, as a Polish-American kid, there was another sort of Easter basket that continues to be very special to me, even as an adult woman.
Early on the morning before Easter my mother would select a large wicker basket. She would iron a lace trimmed linen doily until it was crisply perfect and she would arrange it carefully in the basket. And then, item by item, she would artfully arrange the symbolic Easter foods:
Colored eggs to symbolize resurrection
Rye bread to symbolize the body of Christ
Butter lamb to symbolize Christ as the Lamb of God
Salt to symbolize purification and to remind us of the Sermon on the Mount
Horseradish to symbolize the bitterness of Christ’s suffering and to bring tears
Ham and kielbasa to celebrate the joy of Christ’s resurrection
Placek and chocolates to symbolize the sweetness of life in Christ
Palms from Palm Sunday to recall how Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem
Pussy willows to symbolize resurrection
A jar for the Holy Water that would be made at the Holy Saturday Mass
Once the items were arranged to her liking, Mommy would use flowers and ribbons to decorate the basket and it would finally be ready to bring to church. One of my favorite memories is coming home from college for Easter, happy to be home after feeling so homesick, and helping my mother prepare her basket. I remember my father coming in from the yard to bring her the first crocus of Spring to use in her decorating.
The food in the basket would be brought to church and blessed (Święconka). It would then be used for our Easter dinner.
Easter Saturday services in our Parish are still magical. The service starts outside the church
doors with the creation of “the new fire” to symbolize the return of the light of Christ after he was laid in the tomb on Good Friday. The Paschal Candle is lit (sometimes against a fierce early Spring wind, adding a little tension and suspense) and is brought with great ceremony into the sanctuary.
Once in the sanctuary, the Paschal Candle is used in the ritual to make the new Holy Water for the year’s baptisms and blessings. The ritual of making the Holy Water has always seemed like making a magic potion to me and I suspect there are elements to this service that go back earlier than the advent of Christianity in Poland. It speaks to me on a very deep cultural level.
The Easter baskets are lined up at the foot of the altar and the priest uses the new Holy Water to bless them at the end of the service. In our parish, after the service is over, it is not uncommon for people to trade their beautifully decorated eggs. It is also time to fill the little jars people brought for Holy Water (because you never know when your home stash might come in handy).
In the 1970’s when I was a little girl and our church was still in the Arbor Hill section
of Albany, there was a tiny old Polish lady who spoke no English. She always wore her grey shot black hair parted in the middle and pulled back neatly under a babushka (of course she would never go to church with her head uncovered). She seemed ancient, and a little bit scary to me. On Easter Saturday, after the new Holy Water was made, she would pull out a very large jug and fill it to the top. She would then drink that jug down while standing in front of the altar.
I am so happy to have Polish Easter traditions passed down from my parents and their parents before them, tracing back to our ancestors in Poland. My daughters also love Holy Saturday service and I know that they will pass these traditions on the future generations. In fact, my older daughter wrote this article about how Polonia in the US and the UK celebrate Polish Easter traditions for Culture.PL.
If you would like to reconnect with your roots or pass ancient traditions on to your kids, consider participating at Holy Week services at the Blessed Virgin Mary of Czestochowa. You can find the schedule here. In particular, Holy Saturday Services are at 10 AM and if you would just like to have your Easter basket blessed you may join us at 10:45 AM.