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Blessing of the basket

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS The Rev. Joseph T. Whalen, pastor, St. Richard's Roman Catholic Church, performs a traditional blessing on items in an Easter food basket.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS The Rev. Joseph T. Whalen, pastor, St. Richard's Roman Catholic Church, performs a traditional blessing on items in an Easter food basket.
Published March 22. 2013 05:03PM

A rich Eastern European tradition centers on having a basket of food blessed on Holy Saturday. The food is then enjoyed on Easter Sunday, maybe for breakfast, or maybe saved and eaten for Easter dinner.

The ritual is especially prevalent in families with Slovak background - Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, Russian and others.

One of the most symbolic holiday rituals of the Slavs, the Easter basket tradition stems from the desire of the Christian community to ask God's blessings on the food that will break the Great Fast. It celebrates enjoyment of items from which worshippers have abstained for forty days.

Traditional foods given up for Lent, such as meat and dairy, become the main components of the Easter basket during the joyous time of the Resurrection celebration.

On Tuesday, March 12, that tradition was explored in depth by over 40 women of the Blickley Breakfast Club, Barnesville, hosted by Lorraine Zukovich Blickley, with the basket tradition presented by Hazleton native Pat Kringe Skelson, now of Barnesville.

Skelson explained that every detail in the basket and the blessing ritual is special. For instance, Skelson typically designates a specific basket for use as her Easter basket "and then that basket is only used for Easter."

The basked is used to carry the food to church for the blessing.

The Rev. Joseph T. Whalen, pastor, St. Richard's Roman Catholic Church, was on hand to bless the traditional foods, among them the primary dishes so often seen inside the church for Easter Matins, among them:

Pascha or Paska - Ukrainian Easter sweet bread using yeast. It symbolizes Jesus Christ and is usually a round loaf decorated with a braided top and/or, perhaps, a symbol indicative of Jesus, such as a cross.

Kolbasi or Kielbasa - A spicy, garlic-flavored, ringed pork product indicative of God's favor and generosity.

Hrudka - A milk-and-eggs recipe formed into a cheese consistency and sometimes called Easter Egg loaf.

Chrin, Maslo and Sol - Chrin is a mixture of powerful horseradish and red beets, and is meant to symbolize the Passion of Jesus Christ. Maslo is a block of butter shaped into a lamb or a cross, meant to symbolize Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Way of the Cross. Finally, Sol is salt, symbolizing the salt of the Earth and a goal of performing Christian duties as a way of life.

Sunka - Ham and, for many, a staple in an Easter basket.

Psyanky - Highly decorated Ukrainian Easter eggs, symbolic of a new life now that Christ has risen.

There are other traditional components of a typical Easter basket, as well. For instance, a bottle of wine might be included. Some say after being blessed, the wine can be saved for Christmas dinner if one desires.

"Each basket would have a candle to designate the light of the world," explained Stephanie Yaremko, Hometown. The flame of the candle suggests that prayers travel up to heaven. Yaremko, who shares in Ukrainian heritage, said the blessed Paska, along with the salt, can be used as a meaningful gesture of hospitality when "at various occasions throughout the year to greet people."

Yaremko added to the visual presentation by providing Pysanky, along with colorful cross-stitch bread cloths, sometimes called basket cloths. The art of counted cross-stitch textiles dates back to the 5th and 6th centuries, and Yaremko and Skelson spoke of the tradition and how it blends with Easter pageantry.

Anna Mary Mauro, Hometown, grew up with the Easter food basket tradition, to which she adheres to this day. Like the others, Mauro plans every detail and no shortcuts are taken.

"I buy fresh horseradish root and grate my own horseradish," she explains.

There are some tricks that can save time, however. For instance, some women said they bake their Paska bread ahead of time and freeze it.

Timing is important, says Skelson. "Everything has to be ready by Holy Thursday." Other traditions of the holiday were discussed. For instance, Skelson reminded the attendees of days past. "Remember when we were kids and we didn't talk between 12 and 3 p.m. on Holy Saturday?"

The presentation of Easter basket customs was followed by acoustic guitar entertainment and a sing-along led by Kathy Wufsus, Park Place. Her presentation focused on holiday music for St. Patrick's Day.

Times have changed and sometimes the old ways of our grandparents and those who came before fade away. But Skelson believes the customs of our ancestors are just as important today.

She believes in cherishing heritage and in understanding the significance of each detail, because there is meaning in the message. And in a day when it can be hard to find meaning, Skelson believes the answers can sometimes be uncovered by looking back. We can't know where we're going until we understand where we've been.

"Our present traditions are enriched by knowing the ties to the past," says Skelson.

And what better time to reflect than Easter?

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