of the Easter Basket Foods
blessing of the Easter foods is a tradition dear to the hearts of every
Polish family. Being deeply religious, they are grateful to God for all
His gifts of both nature and grace. As a token of this gratitude, they
have the food of their table sanctified with the hope that spring, the
season of the Resurrection, will also be blessed by God's goodness and
containing a sampling of Easter foods are brought to church to be blessed
on Holy Saturday. The basket is traditionally lined with a white linen or
lace napkin and decorated with sprigs of
boxwood (bukszpan), the typical Easter evergreen.
blessed foods and their symbolic meanings are:
of life and rebirth.
Sausage (kielbasa) or ham—All
types of pork were forbidden under the dietary code of the Old Testament
(Leviticus 11.7). The coming of Christ was seen as exceeding the old law
and the dietary items now became acceptable (Mark 7.19).
Paschal lamb—It can
be made of butter, cake or even plaster. It is the centerpiece of the
meal. Christ is seen as the "Lamb of God."
the bitter herbs of the Passover and the Exodus.
bread in Polish tradition as a sign of hospitality.
has been called "the Bread of Life."
the gall given to Christ at the crucifixion.
the blood of sacrifice spilled by Christ at the crucifixion.
of the best-known Easter symbols is the egg, which has symbolized renewed
life since ancient days. The
egg is said to be a symbol of life because in all living creatures life
begins in the egg. The Persians and Egyptians also colored eggs and ate
them during their new year's celebration, which came in the spring.
many people still color Easter eggs and decorate them with fancy patterns
and symbols. The sun symbolizes good fortune; the rooster, fulfillment of
wishes; the deer, good health; the flowers, love and charity.
Although this term has come to mean Easter eggs in general, strictly
speaking it refers only to those eggs decorated with the molten-wax
technique. Various regions have developed designs of their own, which
include floral and geometric patterns, typical Easter motifs (the Lamb,
Cross, pussy willow), the greeting, "Wesolego Alleluja,"
or simply "Alleluja" and the current year. Many
American Poles design eggs with the names of their friends written on
them. They exchange these decorated eggs with each other during their
Easter visitations along with their good wishes.
The Easter Lamb bearing a cross-emblazoned flag represents Christ
and is thus the typical Polish Easter symbol. The lamb adorns
greeting cards, sugar lambs are blessed in Easter baskets and plaster
lambs form the centerpiece of the swieconka table.
Easter Mass, the faithful hurry home to feast on the delicacies they saw
little of during Lent. Cold dishes predominate like ham, kielbasa, roast
meats, pasztat (pate), hard-boiled eggs in various sauces, salads,
beet and horseradish relish (cwikla), followed by such holiday
cakes as babka, mazurek and sernik. In some families the
breakfast starts with a tart, whitish soup containing eggs and kielbasa,
known as bialy barszcz in eastern Poland and zurek elsewhere.
Easter breakfast begins, members of the family consume wedges of blessed
Easter eggs and exchange best wishes in much the same way as oplatek
is shared on Christmas Eve.
centuries old custom is indeed richly symbolic and beautiful. It is one in
which the whole family can participate and help prepare. May this
tradition endure for many generations to come.
of you can enjoy this beautiful Polish custom by participating at the
blessing of the Easter food at the Polish Center or at the Polish church
nearest you. This is an excellent way to teach the younger members of your
family about this treasured Polish tradition. Remember, it is up to us to
teach our customs to our children.