Enriching Polonian Easter 2007
By Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer

If you, your family, parish or organization have preserved many of our Polish Easter traditions, then by all means keep up the good work and try to spread them to those less fortunate. If, on the other hand, you have drifted away these customs or perhaps were never any too knowledgeable about them, the following hints may refresh your memory or expose you to aspects of our ancestral heritage you may not be familiar with. Whether and how to explore and cultivate these traditions and share them with others is entirely up to you, your family, pastor or Pol-Am club officers and fellow-members.

DORMATIVE AGE: The only way to ensure the continuity of our heritage is to expose our youngsters to its customs at a formative, preschool age. Preschoolers want to be part of things and Easter provides interesting opportunities such as coloring and blessing food baskets, visiting Christ’s tomb, traditional delicacies, Polish Easter games, śmigus-dyngus, etc. If they grow up around Polish traditions, they are more likely to carry on at least some of them. Once kids become totally preoccupied with commercial pop culture (cartoons, computer games, fads, and gadgets), school, sports and peer pressures, there is often little room left over for anything else.

POLISH EASTER GOODS: A wide variety of Polish Easter-related goods are available at Polish Art Center of Hamtramck (Detroit), Michigan. They include Easter eggs and egg-coloring kits, books on Polish customs and traditions, butter lamb molds, videos, recordings, gift items, folk crafts, sweets and more. If ordering in quantity for fund-raising purposes, you can expect a discount. Contact: Polish Art Center, 9539 Joseph Campau Avenue, Hamtramck, MI 48212; phone: 1-313-874-2242; toll-free: 1-888-619-9771; www.polartcenter.com

COLORING EASTER EGGS: Check around to see if any pisanki classes or live demonstrations are available in your area. The simplest way of coloring Easter eggs in Poland has been presented by Rev. Czesław Krysa, a leading authority on Polish religious and folk culture. Pour 1-2 qt water into a pot. Add the onion skins from a 5-pound bag of onions, 1 T salt and ˝ c vinegar. Place 12 room-temp eggs into the water and slowly bring to boil over medium heat to avoid cracking. When water boils, immediately remove pot from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature. Remove eggs and pat dry. Rub eggs with vegetable shortening to give them a deep luster.

LENTEN SUPPERS: Consider holding fish fries at your parish or club on Lenten Fridays and Wednesdays. Remember: Polish-style fried fish is served with horseradish sauce, not tartar sauce, and dilled potatoes instead of French fries. If you already hold a fish fry, why not expand the menu to include such typical Lenten fare żur (ryemeal soup), pickled herring and boiled potatoes, pierogi, naleśniki, potato pancakes and other meatless favorites. Be sure to have on hand enough paper plates and/or styrofoam containers for carry-outs.

HELPING THE NEEDY: Apart from prayer and fasting, one of the traditional pious practices of Lent has been the giving of alms. This can be done today by setting out a large basket at the back of the church or a Pol-Am club, donated food and other supplies can be placed. It’s a good idea to involve young people in the preparation of holiday food parcels and their delivery to the homes of those in need. Not well-to-do neighbors could be invited to free Lenten fish fries and community Easter dinners as guests of the parish or sponsoring group. Lenten fish, herring and pierogi suppers, bakes sales, Easter bazaars, etc. can be held to benefit the poor of the parish or neighborhood.

POLISH HOLY WEEK/EASTER SHUTTLE: In many places, Polish-flavored Lenten and Easter activities take place and most Polish retail stores are located in or around traditional Polish neighborhoods, often inaccessible to those living in suburbia. Some do not drive, no longer drive or do not care to drive in inner-city traffic through “bad neighborhoods” where parking spaces may be hard to find. A bus, minibus, van or car-pool may the answer. This arrangement serves the dual purpose of allowing interested parties to actively participate in Easter-related activities while simultaneously increasing attendance at religious services or social functions. To be successful, it must be adequately publicized (radio community calendars, local press, parish bulletins) well in advance.

PALM SUNDAY: An outdoor procession with pussywillows and rod-type bouquets available to parishioners will give an authentic Polish twist to your Palm Sunday celebration. Would there be interest in and the know-how required to build a life-sized or nearly-life-sized wooden figure of Jesus astride a donkey which could be pulled in the Palm Sunday procession? Or what about having someone play the role of Jesus and riding a real donkey along a road strewn with pussy willows and green branches? Both variants are encountered in Poland to this day.

PALM SUNDAY DINNER: Holding a community meal at your parish, Pol-Am clubrooms or banquet hall on Palm Sunday is a good way to provide a preview to the Polish-style Easter feast especially for the benefit of those who have drifted away from the custom. It could be held at the same venue as the Polish Easter Fair (below).

POLISH EASTER FAIR: Any time from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday, with the exception of Good Friday, is a good time to hold a “kiermasz wielkanocny” or “jarmark świąteczny”. A fair held on Palm Sunday could feature Polish Easter crafts and artifacts (“palms”, pisanki, pisanki-making kits, Easter lambs, butter-lamb molds, wicker baskets, cook books, recorded Easter hymns, etc.). Ready-to-eat Easter foods (kiełbasa, żur or barszcz, ćwikła, horseradish, Polish rye bread and holiday cakes: babka, placek, sernik, pascha, chałka, butter lambs, etc.) would probably go over better on Holy Saturday.

CONCERT OF SACRED MUSIC: A concert of Polish Lenten hymns could be performed by a chorus, orchestra or soloist at church after Mass on Palm Sunday or during the following days of Holy Week. A concert of Easter hymns would be appropriate no earlier than Easter Sunday, but could stretch all the way to Pentecost. Lenten hymns could be included in an Easter concert but joyful Easter hymns would be out of place during Lent.

PASCHAL TRIDUUM: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are the most solemn three days of Holy Week. Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and recalls the creation of the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood. Good Friday, the most solemn day of the year, focuses on the Passion, Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord. This is the day tableaux of Christ’s Tomb are set up in Polish churches. Consider organizing a bus or van trip to Holy Week services, especially Good Friday devotions and the Holy Saturday food blessing or even a pilgrimage to the Christ’s Tomb tableaux in various area Polish churches.

HONOR GUARD: It is traditional for the Lord’s Tomb to be watched over by an honor guard on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. These are often uniformed groups (war veterans, boy scouts, fire-fighters, policemen, etc.), members of parish societies, the previous year’s First Holy Communicants, etc. The guard duty is on a rotating basis and should be in fairly short stints do as not to overtax the endurance of volunteers.

FOOD BLESSING: The blessing of Easter baskets containing an Easter Lamb made of butter, sugar, cake or plaster, eggs, meat, cakes, salt, horseradish, etc. on Holy Saturday is probably the most popular and best-known typically Polish Easter custom. This beautiful tradition easily catches on among Americans of non-Polish background simply because of its ritual beauty and symbolism. After the blessing, the faithful traditional say a prayer at Christ’s Tomb.

MASS OF RESUFRECTION: The sunrise mass on Easter morning begins with an outdoor Eucharistic procession that encircles the church three times. The beautiful old hymns, the church decked out in flowers and greenery, the blazing candles and uplifting sermon all contribute to the mood of spiritual enrichment. Although traditionally held at the crack of dawn, nowadays “Rezurekcja” is sometimes scheduled slightly later to allow more people to attend.

SYMBOLIC AFTER-MASS EGG: In places where holding a full Polish Easter breakfast after mass is not practical for whatever reason, the egg-sharing custom may take place in the vestibule or social hall. Altar servers can hold trays of hard-cooked egg wedges (optionally sprinkled with blessed salt & pepper and a mini-dollop of horseradish) for parishioners to help themselves as they file out. A cube of rye bread may also be offered.

PARISH EASTER BREAKFAST: In places where many people have drifted away from the traditional Polish Easter breakfast in their homes, holding such a community święcone in the parish social hall right after mass might generate interest. A breakfast at 9 or 10 AM would not collide with that “big Easter dinner” which families usually attend in the afternoon. A suggested menu: hard-cooked eggs, kiełbasa, ham, ćwikła, babka, mazurek, sernik, etc.

DYNGUS DAY: Except for the drenching custom, Polish-American Dyngus Day could be called an Easter Monday Święconka. It features traditional Polish Easter food and drink, music, dancing and general merriment. Buffalo, New York and South Bend, Indiana are Polonia’s two best-known Dyngus Day capitals.

ŚWIĘCONKA: This purely Polish-American invention is an Easter party held some time during the week after Easter, usually at the weekend, at the parish hall or lodge clubrooms. Good Polish Easter food, good music and pleasant company make the Święconka an occasion the whole family can enjoy. Especially if some typical Polish Easter games are provided for the kiddies such as the egg roll and egg tap. (See below.)

EASTER RE-ENACTMENT: Polish Easter customs including the food blessing, Easter Monday drenching and house-to-house trick-or-treating can be re-enacted on stage by a folk-dance group as a separate event or part of Dyngus Day or święconka festivities. It can also be staged at a parish Easter breakfast.

POLISH EASTER GAMES: The two best-known Polish Easter games are the egg-roll and the egg-tap. In the egg-roll, contestants place their eggs at the top of a natural incline (hill or mound) or a plank and release them at a given signal. The egg the rolls the farthest is the winner. In the egg-tap a contestant taps his/her hard-cooked egg against that of a rival. The holder of the egg that does not crack wins.