It’s time to hunt out the basket for the annual Święcone (Easter basket blessing). This tradition dates back many centuries when priests would go round homes blessing all the Easter food, moving with time to churches where villagers brought huge baskets to carry the food they had prepared. Now we take small baskets symbolic of our fridges bursting with food ready for the great feast on Easter Sunday.
White napkin lining the basket
Not forgetting the white napkin to line the basket, we add small twigs of bukszpan (box green) or other fresh leaves, symbolising the hope of the Resurrection. In the centre we add the lamb made of butter or sugar, symbolising a gentle, innocent and sacrificial Christ with a little flag featuring the cross and the word Alleluja.
So far, so good, photo courtesy of my son. Around this we add our decorated Easter eggs for new life, horseradish, the sour taste symbolising the passion of Christ, salt as the substance required for life, cake (babka or mazurek) and bread as Christ said he was the bread of life. Also ham or smoked sausage for health and fertility. In times gone by in Kresy (Eastern borderlands) a sweet Pascha would be baked, with cottage cheese, milk and sugar. A large round cake called Kołacz would be made in other parts of Poland, spread with almond or nut paste or cheese. The lamb takes central place and another cloth, often embroidered in regional motifs covers the food on the journey to church for the blessing.
Kraszanki or Pisanki – what’s the difference?
Kraszanki are the eggs you die in a singe colour either with colours bought in a shop or natural methods.
Pisanki are designs drawn on eggs with hot wax, plunged into several colours of dye after which the wax is melted off revealing a rich array of motifs.
You can also make Drapanki from your Kraszanki by scratching patterns into them. These are also known as skrobanki.
I bought these drapanki in Kraków last week, apparently made by a lady in her eighties who continues this tradition with a small blade. Oklejanki, traditionally made with stuck on petals and Nalepianki consists of stuck on patterns, already cut out of paper, particularly in the Łowicz (Łódz area) region. The earliest pisanki found in Poland, near Opole date back to the 10th century.
Legend about the eggs
There’s an old Slavic legend that says a man on his way to the market to sell eggs, left his basket in order to help Christ bear his cross. On returning, he found his eggs had been miraculously transformed into beautiful, coloured Eggs, which of course fetched a much higher price. In the old days, there was a belief that the eggs take on a magical strength and could heal all illnesses. They were therefore the first food eaten at the Easter table. And so far I haven’t mentioned chocolate eggs once! A tradition that has also taken over in Poland now, from the West.
And for the blessing
Whether Poles are church going or not, this is a tradition that has stayed with practically everyone, so that Easter just isn’t Easter without a basket of goodies. Here’s a typical church scene in Poland where the baskets just keep on coming all day long and the priests bless them every 5 minutes, as soon as the table has been replenished with more. Last year I met my retired renal consultant with his family here in the UK. They are English but his son’s Polish fiancee was visiting and insisted on preparing a basket and heading for the nearest church – so others are learning about this ancient practice.
And we’re done, well, the first attempt anyway, with a couple of bird shaped cakes made by a friend, to keep each other company.
Although they are, after all, just eggs, we still share the blessed egg in a similar way to opłatek (Christmas wafer), sprinkling them with a little of the blessed salt, on a slither of blessed bread and wishing each other peace, happiness and joy.
I hope you all feel the joy this Easter and spend quality time with the family as if time has stopped and the year has just begun.