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Apr 20, 2024

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Celebrating Our Ancestral Heritage

Suggestions for Polonia’s Easter Season

By Robert Strybel
Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer

The following customs and projects may refresh your memory or expose you to  aspects of our ancestral heritage you may not be familiar with. Whether and how you choose to explore and cultivate these traditions and share them with others is entirely up to you, your family, pastor, PolAm club officers and fellow-members.

POLONIA’S EASTER HEADQUARTERS: 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; online contact.  www.polartcenter.com;  raymond@polartcenter.com

POLISH EASTER WORKSHOP: Such a project could include lectures and/or video presentations of Polish Easter traditions. Artifacts such as pisanki Easter palms, baskets, lamb molds, Dyngus Day squirters, etc. could be shown and participants might try their hand at making them. Circumstances permitting, the workshop could include a cooking class focused on Polish Easter treats.

LENTEN SUPPERS: Consider holding fish fries at your parish or club on Lenten Fridays and Wednesdays. If you already hold a fish fry, why not expand the menu to include other typically Polish Lenten fare: meatless żur (sour ryemeał soup), pickled herring and boiled potatoes, pierogi, naleśniki, potato pancakes and other meatless favorites. These days there are recipes galore on the Internet!

ALMS FOR THE NEEDY: 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 PolAm clubroom where donated food and other supplies can be placed. Young people should be urged to help prepare and distribute holiday food parcels to the needy.

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 is to  place the onion skins from a 5-pound bag of onions in 2 qts water with 1 T salt and 1/2 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.

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.  What about having someone play the role of Jesus and riding a real donkey along a road strewn with pussy willows and green branches? 

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”. It should provide all the artifacts needed for Easter: Polish Easter“palms”, pisanki, pisanki-making kits, Easter lambs, butter-lamb molds, wicker baskets, cook books, recorded Easter hymns, etc.). Ready-to-eat Easter foods and baked goods are usually good sellers at such fairs.

DROWNING JUDAS: This folk tradition held on Holy Wednesday is a hit with youngsters. A rag effigy of Judas with 30 shards of glass in his pocket is hurled from the church steeple to the jeers and shouts of kids waiting below: It is dragged through the streets, beaten with sticks and dumped into the nearest body of water.

PASCHAL TRIDUUM: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are the most solemn three days of Holy Week. Consider organizing a bus or van trip to Holy Week services, especially Good Friday devotions and the Holy Saturday food blessing.

FOOD BLESSING: The blessing of Easter food baskets 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 traditionally pray at Christ’s Tomb.

POLISH EASTER HYMNS: Listen to and/or learn to sing and play the best-loved Polish Easter hymns such as: “Wesoły nam dzień dziś nastał”, “”Zwycięzca śmierci”, “Chrystus zmartwychwstan jest”, “Otrzyjcie już łzy płaczący”, “Nie zna śmierci Pan żywota”, etc.  Print out the words off the Internet and distribute them to members of your family, club or parish for community singing.

MASS OF RESURRECTION: 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 and filled with parishioners in their holiday best, all contribute to the general spiritual uplift.

PARISH EASTER BREAKFAST: In places where many people have drifted away from the traditional Polish Easter breakfast or brunch in their homes, holding such a community Święcone in the parish social hall right after Easter Sunday Mass might generate interest. 

EASTER GRACE: Pobłogosław nas, Boże,  oraz to święcone, które spożywać będziemy na pamiątkę chwalebnego Zmartwychwstania Twego Syna, przez Jezusa Chrystusa Pana naszego. Amen. – Bless us o Lord and this hallowfare which we are about to consume in memory of Your Son’s glorious Resurrection, through Christ  our Lord. Amen.

SHARING EGGS:  After grace, the head of the household goes up to each standing or seated family member with a plate or platter of blessed egg wedges, which have been sprinkled with blessed salt & pepper. Everyone impales an egg wedge on their fork.  When all have been served, all intone “Wesołego Alleluja” more or less in unison, nodding to one another, and consume their eggs. Now the traditional Święcone may begin.

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, the squirting custom and general merriment. Buffalo, New York is known as the Dyngus Day capital of America.

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 Sunday 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.