Blessing of the Baskets for Easter – A Polish Tradition
All of my ancestors are Polish to the best of my knowledge, and one of my grandparents was born in Poland. So my family is solidly Polish-American. One of our Polish traditions is the blessing of the Easter foods basket on Holy Saturday. I don’t remember the blessing of the baskets from when I was a really young child in Detroit, but my mom probably did it, or my grandma did. She belonged to one of the lovely churches of Poletown, St. Hyacinth.
We moved away from the city long ago to a small town. It was a predominately German town. At some point in our living here, one of the priests began to offer the Blessing of the Baskets, and we have been blessed to have that blessing ever since.
Each year we put basically the same types of foods in our baskets. We walked with them to the church and sat at the center aisle, setting our basket on the floor. We enjoyed all of the Easter flowers being set up on the altar for the Vigil Mass and watched to see how many people would participate in the blessing this year, and checked out their baskets. Each year the number of baskets would be different. Father would come out at the designated time with the Holy Water and we would pull back the basket covering and open the foods. The church smelled lovely with all of the sausages opened up! The blessings completed, and maybe a small food offering would be given to Father. We cover everything back up, head home and kept the blessed foods separated in the refrigerator for the morning meal. Then on Easter morning after Mass, we would sit down to a largely cold breakfast of our blessed foods. It’s a lovely tradition.
The foods we typically include are ham, eggs, bread, sausage, butter, candies, sometimes horseradish, and pierogis. It’s our tradition.
It wasn’t until this year that I learned that “our” tradition is very close to “the” tradition. Go figure!
A fellow parishioner gave me a copy of Swieconka – Blessing of the Baskets published in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish Bulletin in Lapeer, Michigan in 2014:
Swieconka (sh-vee-en-soon-kah) is one of the most enduring and beloved Polish traditions. Baskets 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. Poles take special pride in preparing a decorative and tasteful basket with crisp linens, occasionally embroidered for the occasion, and just enough boxwood and ribbon woven through the handle. Observing the beautiful foods and creations of other parishioners is one of the special joys of the event.
Basket Contents and Symbolism:
Maslo/Butter: This dairy product is often shaped into a lamb (Baranek Wielkanocny), reminding us of the goodness of Christ that we should have toward all things.
Chleb/Easter Bread: A round rye loaf topped with a cross, symbolic of Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Chrzan/Horseradish: Symbolic of the Passion of Christ still in our minds, but sweetened with some sugar because of the Resurrection. (May be white or pink [w/ grated red beets].)
Jajka/Eggs and Pisanki: Indicate new life and Christ’s Resurrection from the Tomb.
Kielbasa/Sausage: A spicy sausage of pork products, indicative of God’s favor and generosity.
Szynka/Ham: Symbolic of great joy and abundance. (In addition to the large ham cooked for the Easter Meal, often a special small ham, called the Szynka Wielkanocny is purchased specially for the Swieconka basket.)
Slonina/Smoke Bacon: A symbol of the over abundance of God’s mercy and generosity.
Ser/Cheese: Shaped into a ball, it is the symbol of the moderation Christians should have.
Holy Water: Holy water is used to bless the home, animals, fields and used in religious rituals throughout the year.
A colorful ribbon and sometimes sprigs of greenery are attached.
The linen cover is drawn over the top and is ready for the trek to the blessing.
Whether or not you can claim some Polish blood in your veins, this is a lovely Easter tradition. I hope you consider creating your own basket and get it blessed. Many Easter blessings to you!