Sunday, January 27, 2013

Blessing The Easter Baskets in Poland

Modern ceremony in Poland
      Święconka (Polish pronunciation: [ɕvʲɛnˈtsɔnka]), meaning "the blessing of the Easter baskets," is one of the most enduring and beloved Polish traditions on Holy Saturday. While originally observed by Poles in the U.S., it has become increasingly mainstream in the U.S and is starting to grow in the U.K. as Poles go there to live. Catholic churches, being observed by a wide cross-section of parishes.
For example, the Chicago Tribune reported Francis Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago performing the blessing in a church on Chicago's Northwest Side on Holy Saturday of 2007. In 2008, a similar service took place in the Chicago archdiocese at St. Alphonsus Liguori Roman Catholic Church in Mt. Prospect, Illinois.
      The tradition of food blessing at Easter, which has early-medieval roots in Christian society, possibly originated from a pagan ritual. The tradition is said to date from the 7th century in its basic form, the more modern form containing bread and eggs (symbols of resurrection and Christ) are said to datefrom the 12th century.
A typical "Święconka" basket of Polish Holy Saturday tradition.
      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 boxwood and ribbon woven through the handle. Observing the creativity of other parishioners is one of the special joys of the event.
      While in some older or rural communities, the priest visits the home to bless the foods, the vast majority of Poles and Polish Americans visit the church on Holy Saturday, praying at the Tomb of the Lord (the fourteenth and final Station of the Cross). The Blessing of the Food is, however, a festive occasion. The three-part blessing prayers specifically address the various contents of the baskets, with special prayers for the meats, eggs, cakes and breads. The priest or deacon then sprinkles the individual baskets with holy water.
      More traditional Polish churches use a straw brush for aspersing the water; others use the more modern metal holy water sprinkling wand. In some parishes, the baskets are lined up on long tables; in others, parishioners process to the front of the altar carrying their baskets, as if in a Communion line. Older generations of Polish Americans, descended from early 19th century immigrants, tend to bless whole meal quantities, often brought to church halls or cafeterias in large hampers and picnic baskets. The food blessed in the church remains untouched until Sunday morning.

 Easter Blessing of Food St. Therese Church, April 7, 2012 by Rev. Vidal Gonzales

The foods in the baskets have a symbolic meaning:
  • eggs - symbolise life and Christ's resurrection
  • bread - symbolic of Jesus
  • lamb - represents Christ
  • salt - represents purification
  • horseradish - symbolic of the bitter sacrifice of Christ
  • ham - symbolic of great joy and abundance.

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