To find out about the significance of the day before Easter, please see my 2009 post, ‘What happens on Holy Saturday?’
In Eastern European countries, particularly Poland, Catholics have a tradition of taking their baskets of food for Easter to church so that the priest can bless the contents. It should be noted that Lent continues until Holy Saturday evening, so these foods are for consumption on Easter Sunday itself.
In Poland, this tradition is called Swieconka (sh-vee-en-soon-kah). Each basket — see Ann Hetzel Gunkel’s illustration at left — contains specific items pertinent to Easter and to the Christian life.
Mrs Hetzel Gunkel explains the basket’s contents in full at the link above. I have paraphrased these and added some comments of my own below:
Butter, in the shape of a lamb to signify the Lamb of God — as in the Agnus Dei — ‘who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us’. The cake in the shape of a lamb served on Easter in Eastern Europe and some parts of Germany also has the same meaning.
Bread — a round rye loaf — with a cross shape in the middle to signify the Crucifixion (Good Friday)
Horseradish to symbolise Christ’s suffering on the Cross but with some sugar added to anticipate his rising from the dead on Easter.
Eggs to represent Christ’s new life at the Resurrection.
Sausage to indicate God’s abundant favour towards us.
Ham to signify joy and abundance.
Bacon to signify God’s mercy and abundance.
Salt — so precious in Christ’s time that men were paid in it — and so necessary for preserving our food, adding flavour and helping our bodies maintain proper balance.
Cheese, with its balance of soothing milk and rennet for fermentation, to indicate moderation in the Christian life.
Holy water, which is used often throughout the year in devout Catholic homes and farms.
A small Paschal candle (explained in my 2009 Holy Saturday post).
Ribbons for decoration and a clean, pressed white linen cloth for cover.
At left is a representative photo of a priest blessing family baskets. You can see a terrific set of photographs of a food blessing in Krakow at the Polish Site.
Anna Hetzel Gunkel details what happens at the food blessing, including the prayers.
If you live in or near an Eastern European parish, like St Colette’s in Brunswick, Ohio, you may be able to experience this happy time in anticipation of Easter Sunday.
It remains only for me to wish you abundant blessings of the Risen Christ for a very happy Easter … and a wonderful dinner with family and friends.