Święconka: the Polish Easter tradition artfully assembles symbolic foods, from bread to lamb-shaped butter.
The Polish people are very religious. Most of them are Roman Catholics. For centuries, during the 40 days before Easter (Lent) the Polish people fasted: they ate no meat, butter, eggs, cheese or desserts.
On this day, the day before Easter, called Holy Saturday, Catholics still today assemble artful collections of symbolic foods for a traditional sacred ritual: the blessing of Easter baskets, locally know as Święconka. With roots dating back to the early history of Poland, it is also observed by expatriate and their descendants Poles in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Ireland, and other Polish Parish communities.
The tradition of food blessing at Easter, which has early-medieval roots in Christian society, possibly originated from a pagan ritual, as many modern traditions linked on Spring and Easter time.
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 date from the 12th century.
The vast majority of Poles visit the church on Holy Saturday, praying at the Tomb of the Lord (the fourteenth and final Station of the Cross). 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.
The baskets are made to be brought to church on this day, and contain specific ingredients.
The basket itself is made out of wood or twigs, lined with linen or lace, and decorated with sprigs of boxwood (bukszpan), the typical Easter evergreen.
It can contain many different foods, but it most typically includes:
– Jajka (eggs), symbolizing life and Christ’s resurrection,
– Babka (Easter bread), topped with a cross or a fish, which is symbolic of the body of Christ, who is our true Bread of Life.
– Baranek Wielkanocny (a Paschal lamb figure), which can be fashioned from anything from butter (maslo) to chocolate to marzipan (or sometimes even nonedible material),
– Sol (salt), which represents purification, that Jesus used its symbolism: “You are the salt of the earth.”
– Kielbasa (sausage), indicative of God’s favor and generosity,
– Szynka (ham), to symbolize abundance,
– Chrzan (horseradish with grated red beets), whose bitterness is associated with the pain of Christ’s sacrifice.
Poles often take pride in these baskets, decorating them in beautiful ways. A candle is often inserted into the basket to represent Christ, the Light of the World.
After the priest blesses the baskets at Mass on Holy Saturday, they are brought home, where they sit untouched until Easter the next morning.
Then, many of its contents will be traditionally used for breakfast.
The blessed egg is the symbol of life and, according to popular beliefs, eating it guarantee good health, and all family members have to eat at least a small piece of each of the blessed foods because this bring them good luck.
Images from web – Google Research