I received such positive feedback from my traditional Polish Christmas blog that I decided to share with you our Polish Easter traditions.
Much of our Easter celebration centers on the Holy Week services of the Catholic Church. Beginning with the gloriously triumphant Palm Sunday mass, through the Holy Thursday commemoration of the Last Supper, institution of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, recalling Christ’s perfect example of humility and service in the washing of the feet, the solemnity of Good Friday with the recollection of Our Lord’s horrific passion and evening Tennebrae service of darkness and abandonment - this is a week filled with reverence.
I do all the décor at our church so much of my time is spent at the parish. The Easter Vigil service of fire and light, water, baptism, confirmation, Eucharist and the glories of the risen Lord is uplifting, filled with wondrous music and floral splendor. This sets the tone for our celebration which continues for 50 days and culminates with the feast of Pentecost.
One of the most beloved Polish traditions in my family is the blessing of the Easter foods called Swieconka. Swieconka is one of the most enduring Polish customs. On Saturday at noon, the people carry their decorated wicker baskets containing a sampling of traditional food to be blessed: hard-boiled eggs, ham, kielbasa, salt, horseradish, fruits, breads, candies and wine to the church to be blessed. Prominently displayed among these is the Easter lamb, usually molded from butter. I mold the butter and deliver butter lambs to members of my family to adorn their Easter table. Each person at the table should participate in the cutting of the butter lamb to recall that Christ, the paschal lamb, suffered for our sins and we are all a part of his suffering and sacred passion. The food blessed in the church remains untouched until Sunday morning.
While our family only does the more common egg coloring, many Polish people continue the custom of pisanki eggs decorated with many traditional Polish symbols of Easter. Most popular are lamb, cross, floral designs or Easter's greetings such as Wesollego Alleluja. The eggs are decorated with the use of treated wax and the patterns are etched with a pointed instrument on top of the paint, the eggs are then called "skrobanki" or "rysowanki".
Easter Sunday / Wielka Niedziela
While I attend the Easter Vigil mass on Saturday night, many families go to church on Easter morning, a special Resurrection Mass is celebrated in every church in Poland. At this Mass, a procession of priests, servers and the congregation circles the church three times while the church bells peal and the organ is played for the first time since they had been silenced on Good Friday. Following the Mass, people return home to eat the food blessed the day before.
My Easter table is set with a white cutwork tablecloth. The white cloth symbolizes the white shroud of the risen savior. The table is laden with the treats of the day, the blessed food of ham, kielbasa, colored eggs, cwikla – pickled beets and horseradish – bitter horseradish to remind us of the Lord’s passion and the red beets the blood of Christ, blessed salt, as we are the salt of the earth, homemade breads, white, rye and babka, poppy seed rolls, platzek, pies and candies for dessert and wine for the toast. There is also a tradition to share blessed eggs with the members of the family and wish each other good health, happiness for the rest of the year.
Kielbasa is a spicy garlic pork sausage. The readily available commercial brands cannot do justice to a well made classic polish sausage. The meats are chunky, not overly ground, the spices of freshly ground coarse black pepper, lots of garlic, mustard seed complete the recipe that is lovingly smoked with fragrant and flavorful hardwoods. For those local to Central PA, try Holland Brothers in Newry. We have searched all over the country but always end up with Holland's. It isn't as good as our old Polish neighborhood grocer who made his own but it is pretty close. The best way to cook the kielbasa is to slow roast it in the bottom of the pan with your Easter ham. Baste with the drippings until the sausage is very glossy and beautifully browned.
Babka bread is rich and often shaped in a bundt pan, reminiscent of a woman's skirts, hence its name Babka, which is polish for grandmother. The bread is slightly sweet and generously sprinkled with dried fruits of raisin, candied orange peel, lemon zest and cherries. A cross is cut into the rising bread. It is often said that a housewife's reputation as a cook rests on the successful rising of her babka.
1-1/4 cups lukewarm milk
2 packages active dry yeast
6 tablespoons sugar
6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 egg yolks
3/4 lb plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup white seedless raisins, cherries, or apricots
2 tablespoons chopped candied orange peel
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Dissolve yeast in the lukewarm milk and add 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar. Let the mixture stand for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast completely.
Place the 6 cups of flour and the remaining sugar and the salt in a deep mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the yeast mixture into the center and the egg yolks, and with a large spoon, gradually stir in the flour into the liquid ingredients. Continue to stir until well mixed, and then beat in 3/4 lbs of butter a few tablespoonfuls at a time. The dough should be firm enough to be gathered into a medium soft ball. You can add up to 1/2 cup more of flour a little at a time if needed.
Knead by hand or with dough hook/mixer for 5 to 10 minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball, place it in a lightly buttered bowl and dust the top with flour. Drape a towel over the bowl and set it aside in a draft free place for about 1 hour, or until the dough doubles in size.
Punch the dough down and then knead the raisins,fruit, and lemon peel. Shape into a round and cut a cross into the top of the dough and place on a buttered cookie sheet. Or spread the 2 tablespoons of softened butter over the bottom and the sides of a 12 inch tube pan or a bundt mold. Allow to rise until double.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and bake the cake in the middle of the oven for about 40 minutes, or until it is golden brown. Turn the bread out onto a cake rack and let it cool.
Cwikla - Red Beets with Horseradish
3 cups cooked or canned beets, drained and grated
4 oz. finely grated fresh or prepared horseradish
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
Combine all of the ingredients, cover and refrigerate for two days. You can alter this to your taste by adjusting the measurements.
Wet Monday / Lany Poniedzialek
Easter Monday is a holiday in Poland and is called in polish "Lany Poniedzialek" or "Smigus- Dyngus". This is a wonderful day of fun. The ancient Polish tradition is celebrated by everyone with enthusiasm by sprinkling each other with water. Children, especially have fun this day. Some people say that by being splashed with water on Easter Monday will bring you good luck throughout the year. Of course, as usual with customs, things get carried away. Many folks call this “dunking day” and the sprinkling becomes much more of a soaking. It is all in good fun.
May your and your loved ones be blessed with a joy filled Easter season.
Thanks for visiting,
By Guest on 06/25/2013 @ 12:47amThank you for sharing! We too are Polish and have many Christmas polish traditions especially Wigilia. We have lost over the years some of these Easter traditions and I plan to add them to our next years Celebration.
By Guest on 03/04/2013 @ 04:24amThanks.
By Guest on 02/22/2013 @ 02:44pmI loved reading about your traditions! Thank you for sharing.
By Guest on 04/15/2012 @ 09:32amThanks Bonnie, The food presentation looks wonderful. I felt like sitting down at your beautiful table and feasting. I spent Easter in California. Bought some German Keilbasa. Not even close to the Pa. stuff.