On Saturday, March 12, the Society held its Fifth Annual Easter Basket Social at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy. It turned out to be a very popular event again this year, with 65 people attending and 55 (including six enthusiastic children) participating in the pisanki workshop. The weather was sunny and warm, which helped put everyone in the mood for spring and Easter.
Rev. Gary Michalik, Society President, blessed the full, traditional Polish luncheon, which was fabulous! Served with the meal were a variety of Polish teas, which are unique to this event each year. During dessert, Rev. Larry Zurawski, Society member and Pastor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township, shared his knowledge about the Polish Easter basket tradition, or Święconka.
Traditional items for the Easter basket blessing include the following with their symbolic meaning noted: colored eggs for hope, new life and a reminder of Jesus’ resurrection. Dairy products such as butter and cheese represent the end of Lent and the richness of salvation (butter is made into a lamb to symbolize the “Lamb of God”). Bread, the “staff of life,” symbolizes Jesus as the staff of life (the top of the Easter bread or roll is marked with a cross); sweet bread, or babka, is a reminder of the resurrection’s sweetness and the bread of everlasting life.
Bacon (boczek/słonina) is symbolic of the overabundance of God’s mercy, and sausage and ham (szynka) are symbolic of great joy, abundance, health, and prosperity. Horseradish (chrzan), with its bitterness, represents the bitter herbs of the original Passover meal and is a reminder of the bitterness and harshness of the life of slavery in Egypt, as well as the bitterness of Jesus’ Passion, by which he entered into glory. Salt (sól) is symbolic of wisdom and preservation from corruption. Kiełbasa or links of sausage remind us of the chains of death that were broken when Jesus rose from the dead.
Other additions according to regional and family traditions may include: wine, vinegar, cheese, pepper, bacon, fruit, cakes and pastries. Also, today, a child may include a favorite doll or stuffed toy to be blessed.
The basket holding the foods is usually decorated with greenery, flowers and bright ribbons. Boxwood (bukszpan), the customary Easter evergreen, is traditional and sprigs of it have been used for ages by Poles to weave through the handle of the basket. Greens are symbolic of Christ’s new life and the eternal salvation that He procured for us by His death and resurrection. Pussy willow branches also are used to decorate the basket. This is the traditional Polish “palm” and is symbolic of springtime.
The basket is lined with white linen or embroidered cloth considered special and used only once a year for the Easter blessing. The white linen cloth is symbolic of the linen shroud that wrapped Jesus’ body before he was placed in the tomb.
Laurie A. Gomulka, Society Vice President & Executive Director/Secretary, gave a short presentation on the Palm Sunday tradition in Poland. This includes competitions in some villages such as Łyse in the Kurpie region and in Lipnica Murowana, southwest of Krakòw, for the tallest and most beautiful palm. People from all over the region work hard throughout the 40 days of Lent to create their entries for the competitions. The contests are very competitive and have special rules.
Much like here in the U.S., in Poland the blessed palms have a religious significance. They are placed over a sacred image or above the front door to protect against fire and all evil. Early in the morning on Easter Sunday, or on Easter Monday in southern Poland (particularly in the Sącz and Rzeszów areas), bits of palm or palm crosses, along with blessed eggs, are placed or buried in the fields and garden to bless and defend them from hail and pests.
In the village of Tokarnia near MyŚlenice and other areas, a custom known as Jezus Palmowy or Jezus Lipowy takes place in which a figure of Christ riding a donkey is placed in a cart and pulled through the main square in a procession. This tradition, which started in the 15th century, was banned by church authorities in 1781 because the gatherings had turned into raucous affairs, but it is slowly returning to its place of honor in Palm Sunday celebrations.
The event continued with the pisanki workshop. Polish folklorist Marcia Lewandowski gave an introduction and then she and Alina Klin, Ph.D., Society Director, began the workshop. The enthusiastic students quickly realized that the art of creating pisanki takes years of practice and lots of patience to perfect. But they had loads of fun learning and designing their own unique creations, and everyone had a unique egg to take home!