It’s Holy Week, and for many Polish Americans, that would normally mean Swieconka. Or the blessing of Easter Baskets. But, with Covid-19 and social distancing, blessing of Easter Baskets will not be taking place this year. There was talk late last week of ‘drive by basket blessings’, but that idea was nixed by the diocese, in compliance with state guidelines.
So, I’m curious. Are you preparing your baskets anyway? I’ve decided to go ahead and do it this year. Might not make sense to, but bear with me on this.
What Goes In the Traditional Baskets for Blessing?
I’ve made a list of the most common items included in the Polish Easter Basket. It varies somewhat from family to family, but basically this is it.
Bread – Small round loaves of bread with a cross cut into the top, or rye bread to signify the “bread of life.” My family has always done rye. Perhaps because my father’s babcia made rye bread every Saturday and he has great memories of those Saturday mornings spent with her.
Eggs – Hard Boiled, plain or colored. Eggs are a symbol of life and the Resurrection of Jesus.
Ham/Kielbasa – Symbols of God’s generosity and abundance.
Cakes – Any kind of sweet cake symbolizing the sweetness of eternal life. My Mom always made placek.
Horseradish – One of the bitter herbs of Passover. Symbolic of the Crucifixion.
Salt – Symbol of Prosperity and Justice, and spice for life.
Pepper – Also one of the bitter herbs of Passover, symbolic of the Crucifixion.
Butter Lamb – Symbolizes the “Lamb of God” and represents Jesus, the most important addition to the basket.
There are other items considered traditional to some families, not others. Like wine. (Jesus changed water into it, soooo…) On the flip side of that some families include vinegar to represent the sour wine Jesus was given to drink from a sponge while on the cross. My family always put chocolate in the basket; I guess that was a sweetness of eternal life thing too? I’ll be sure to keep that in mind next time I’ve got a chocolate craving. Some families put in cheese, but I think that’s just because they really like cheese. And that’s good too.
Here’s What Our Family Tradition Looks Like on Easter
On Good Friday, we’d go to the Broadway Market. Pick up some essentials. And non-essentials too. Like fudge, definitely an essential for me! It’s always crazy packed with people, but we never consider going a week early to avoid the crowds. It’s just something that we always did. Then, we’d visit Corpus Christi, of course. But Holy Saturday?
When we were kids, our mother took care of all the preparations of the food for the basket, with the exception of the egg coloring. But when we grew up, she started to invite my sisters and I over on Holy Saturday morning to prepare the basket. When my sister’s daughters got older, they started coming too, and started making the butter lambs. We’d slice the hams while the kielbasa cooked (both fresh and smoked), color the eggs, make the butter lamb, finish up candy making, and laugh. A lot of laughter! Kind of a ‘girls day’ without the new age label. Full disclosure, one of my brothers came a couple of years to slice the ham.
We’d eat lunch and then head over to church with the basket(s) in tow to be blessed. Our church traditionally had two blessing times, sometimes we made the first one. More often, we flew in just in time for the second.
Easter 2020 though, was going to be different for the Mika family anyway. You see, it will be the first Easter that our sweet mother is in a memory care unit. And the basket blessing was important to her. A couple of years ago now, we talked her into letting me host Holy Saturday morning. We’ve eased up on the ‘girls only’ thing since then, so my husband and one or two of our sons started coming too. Our father even came last year. My grandchildren and nephews were now in charge of coloring the eggs, and the butter lamb is still being done by my niece. So as March began, I decided we’d do it anyway, take pictures and show them to Mom when we visited.
Then Covid-19 happened. We can’t visit the nursing home. And with social distancing…we can’t do any of our traditions this year. No basket blessing, no big family get together at my sister’s house for Easter brunch. My kids are grown and don’t live at home so we won’t be able to see them or our grandchildren.
So why bother? Well, I’ve been thinking about that.
This is Why
I think it’s for the same reason I wrote those posts about visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday. To somehow keep a connection with the holiday in the way we would normally celebrate it. While we’re at home, without all of our loved ones around us. We can’t celebrate in the traditional sense, but we can do our own little version of it from home. It’ll take our minds off all the bad things going on in the news.
For those of you who are interested, my husband tells me that we can bless our own baskets. He heard it on Catholic Radio, so if you’ve got kiddos at home, you could have them do it. Bet they’d love it.
I will always treasure the memories of all those Holy Saturdays past, and will continue the tradition for as long as I am able.
In addition to preparing our Easter food for Swieconka, we’re planning a Zoom party with our family on Easter Sunday this year. We’re adapting. We’ll be making phone calls to other family members too. It won’t be like being there in person, but it’ll keep us all safe, and it’ll take our minds off everything else. In the grand scheme of things, it really could be worse. Maybe, this Easter would be a good time to count our blessings. So that next year, we will appreciate a simple thing like gathering together with family on Easter Sunday.
Happy, healthy Easter to you and yours. And peace be with you.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to go cook up some pierogi and kielbasa. Maybe make a butter lamb…
p.s. If you are practicing social distancing alone, go ahead and make your basket anyway. Or do whatever it is your family usually does. Share photos on social media and tag @hellobflo, or post them on Hello Buffalo’s facebook page. I would love to see how you’re celebrating!
Lead image photo credit: Unknown.