Judith Mohler, treasurer of the Prairie State Polish Club, says many people of Polish ancestry remember the blessing — focusing on the foods of Easter and not candy — from their youth. The Polish word for blessing of the baskets is Swieconka.
Kim Eck, a member of Christ the King Parish in Springfield, adds that she has relatives who were from both Poland and Slovakia and knows people from several ethnic ancestries who are interested in the tradition. Since Holy Saturday is known as a day of prayerful reflection upon Christ’s death — a day to wait at the tomb in anticipation of his Resurrection — the tradition of the basket is important, says Eck.
“The tradition was brought to the United States by immigrants from countries such as Poland, Slovakia and the Ukraine,” she says. “The blessing marks the end of Lenten penances and the blessed foods are incorporated into the Easter Sunday meal.”
Some people who participate in the Easter basket blessing come in ethnic attire, says Mohler. “Last year the blessing was held at Sacred Heart Church, because the Cathedral was closed, but I noticed several families came in Polish costumes,” she says.
The Easter food baskets are typically lined with a linen cloth or a lace napkin and the foods are placed in the basket encircling the Easter bread. Often people have family heirloom cloths which are embroidered with themes of the Resurrection and symbols of Christ. Some cultures weave a ribbon around the handle or tie a bow to it. Sometimes sprigs of greenery are attached to the basket.
Easter baskets contain more than food, Eck explains. “In addition to the carefully arranged food, a Paschal candle is placed in the basket to represent Christ, the Light of the World.”
Tradition holds that the Easter basket was something to be proud of, Eck says. “In old Europe, the mistress of the house was often judged according to the way her Easter basket looked, what it contained and how it was decorated,” she says. “In America, the contents became more of a matter of practicality.”
Father Harman will probably follow tradition on the blessing, Eck says. “The food blessing service usually includes a three-part blessing for the various contents of the basket: cakes and bread, eggs and dairy products, and the meats.”
Eck and her mother, Nancy Tatarek, also a member of Christ the King Parish, bake bread and prepare foods for the baskets. “Last year was the first year I was able to take my grandchildren (now almost 2-year-old cousins Esmé Eck and Keegan Eck) so that was fun — especially since I remember going with my own grandparents to a basket blessing,” she says. “When they get a little older I’ll dress them in the shirts my (now-grown) children wore to the blessing.
“You know, whatever your ethnic background, this service provides an opportunity to celebrate the gifts God has given us and ask for his blessings on our daily lives. The ceremony is a beautiful way to preserve a little of our ancestors’ heritage and to enhance our Holy Saturday reflections,” says Eck.
“The blessing of food not only symbolizes Christ in our lives, it is also a source of bonding for people from all cultures who are connected by one loving God.”