This past Holy Saturday morning at Sacred Heart Church in Bournemouth some 2500 to 3000 people passed through the parish church to have their food blessed by Father Andrzej Zuziak, SChr.
In many Eastern European countries, it is a tradition to have a basket of food blessed on Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday. In Poland, for example, the blessing of the baskets is known as święcenie pokarmow wiełkanocnych, a practice dating to the 15th century or earlier, and one which is still maintained by most families in Poland on Holy Saturday.
The food items in the Easter basket, as well as at the Easter Sunday breakfast where the blessed food is eaten, have special significance.
A lot of thought, time and care is not only put into the foods that will go into the basket but also to how the basket is assembled. The basket is lined with an embroidered cloth or traditional folk fabric. Once the basket is filled, it is covered with a white linen cloth (some have a colorful crocheted edging or embroidered design) representing the shroud of Christ. The basket may then be decorated with sprigs of boxwood (bukszpan) or Polish “palms ” made from dried flowers and colorful paper.
In rural Poland, the size and contents of a woman’s basket (some used wooden bowls and even dresser drawers) was a matter of pride and standing in the community.
A typical Eastern European Easter basket would include any of these symbolic foods.
- Bacon–boczek/słonina (BOH-chek/swoh-NEE-nah). A symbol of the abundance of God’s mercy.
- Bread–chleb (hlehb). Usually a braided chałka, representing the staff of life given by God.
- Easter bread–babka (BAHB-kah). A round loaf of rich, eggy, yeast dough with raisins reminiscent of the risen Lord.
- Butter–masło (MAHS-woh). Dairy products are included to celebrate the end of Lent and the richness of our salvation. Butter is often shaped into a lamb (symbolic of the Paschal Lamb) and known as a baranek. (When the baranek is made of sugar, it is known as baranek cukrowy wielkanocny.) Sometimes the baranek is made of dough, wood or even plastic.
- Candle–swieca (SHVIEH-tsa). The candle symbolizes Jesus, the “light of the world,” and can be lit when the priest blesses the baskets of food.
- Cheese–ser (SEHRR). Cheese is a symbol to remind Christians of moderation.
- Colored eggs–pisanki (pee-SAHN-kee). Both colored and uncolored hard-cooked eggs indicate hope, new life and Christ rising from his tomb.
- Ham–szynka (SHIN-kah). Meats are symbolic of great joy and abundance in celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
- Sausage–kiełbasa (kyehw-BAH-sah). The sausage links are symbolic of the chains of death that were broken when Jesus rose from the dead, as well as of God’s generosity.
- Horseradish–chrzan (HZAHN). This is a reminder of the bitterness and harshness of the Passion of Jesus, and the vinegar it is mixed with symbolizes the sour wine given to Jesus on the cross.
- Salt–sól (SOOL). Salt is represented to add zest to life and preserve us from corruption.
- Sweets–słodycze (swoh-DIH-cheh). Sweets suggest the promise of eternal life or good things to come.