• Deborah Kade

Święconka, the blessing of the Easter food

Święconka, meaning "the blessing of the Easter baskets," is one of the most enduring and beloved Polish traditions on Holy Saturday, with roots dating back to the early history of Poland.

The blessing of the Easter food, or the "Swieconka" is a tradition dear to the heart of every Polish person. The Polish people are very religious. Most of them are Roman Catholics. For centuries, during the 40 days before Easter the Polish people fasted. This means they ate no meat, butter, eggs, cheese or desserts. So a big part of the Easter celebration was being able to eat these foods again. "Being deeply religious, he is grateful to God for all His gifts of both nature and grace, and, as a token of this gratitude, has the food of his table sanctified with the hope that spring, the season of the Resurrection, will also be blessed by God's goodness and mercy."

The tradition of food blessing at Easter, which has early-medieval roots in Christian society, possibly originated from a pagan ritual. The tradition is said to date from the 7th century in its basic form, the more modern form containing bread and eggs (symbols of resurrection and Christ) are said to date from the 12th century.

Baskets containing a sampling of Easter foods are brought to church to be blessed on Holy Saturday. The basket is traditionally lined with a white linen or lace napkin and decorated with sprigs of boxwood (bukszpan), the typical Easter evergreen. Poles take special pride in preparing a decorative and tasteful basket with crisp linens, occasionally embroidered for the occasion, and boxwood and ribbon woven through the handle. Pussy willows are included as they are a symbol of Easter in Poland. Observing the creativity of other parishioners is one of the special joys of the event.

While in some older or rural communities, the priest visits the home to bless the foods, the vast majority of Poles and Polish Americans visit the church on Holy Saturday, praying at the Tomb of the Lord (the fourteenth and final Station of the Cross). The blessing of the food is, however, a festive occasion. The three-part blessing prayers specifically address the various contents of the baskets, with special prayers for the meats, eggs, cakes and breads. The priest or deacon then sprinkles the individual baskets with holy water.

More traditional Polish churches use a straw brush for aspersing the water; others use the more modern metal holy water sprinkling wand. In some parishes, the baskets are lined up on long tables; in others, parishioners process to the front of the altar carrying their baskets, as if in a Communion line. Older generations of Polish Americans, descended from early 19th century immigrants, tend to bless whole meal quantities, often brought to church halls or cafeterias in large hampers and picnic baskets.

The foods in the baskets have a symbolic meaning:

eggs - symbolize life and Christ's resurrection

bread - symbolic of Jesus

lamb - represents Christ

salt - represents purification

horseradish - symbolic of the bitter sacrifice of Christ

ham - symbolic of great joy and abundance.

The food blessed in the church remains untouched according to local traditions until either Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning.

Some baskets in Poland include:

Maslo (butter) This favorite dairy product is often shaped into a lamb (Baranek Wielkanocny) or a cross. This reminds us of the goodness of Christ that we should have toward all things.

Babka (Easter bread) - A round loaf topped with a cross or a fish, symbolic of Jesus, who is our true Bread of Life.

Chrzan (horseradish with grated red beets) - Symbolic of the Passion of Christ still in our minds but sweetened with some sugar because of the Resurrection.

Jajka (eggs) and Pisanki (decorated with the symbols of Easter, of life, of prosperity) -Indicate new life and Christ's Resurrection from the tomb.

Kielbasa (sausage) - A spicy sausage of pork products, indicative of God's favor and generosity.

Szynka (ham) - Symbolic of great joy and abundance. Some prefer lamb or veal. The lamb also reminds Catholics that the Risen Christ is the "Lamb of God."

Slonina (smoked bacon) - A symbol of the over abundance of God's mercy and generosity.

Sol (salt) - So necessary an element in our physical life, that Jesus used its symbolism: "You are the salt of the earth."

Ser (cheese) - Shaped into a ball, it is the symbol of the moderation Christians should have at all times.

A candle is inserted into the basket to represent Christ, the Light of the World. A colorful ribbon and sometimes sprigs of greenery are attached. A linen cover is drawn over the top and it is ready for the priest's visit or for the trek to church where it is joined with the baskets of others to await the blessing that will render it fit for consumption on Easter Sunday.

On Easter morning, the family attended church. When they arrived back home, the head of the house took one of the blessed eggs, removed the shell and cut it into small pieces to share it among all the people in the family. The blessed egg is the symbol of life and eating it was believed to guarantee good health. Everyone exchanged wishes and they ate a big meal that included soup, all the blessed foods in the basket plus other foods and desserts. Everyone had to eat at least a small piece of each of the blessed foods because this would bring them good luck.

Poswiecenie Pokarmow -Blessing of Food

The Blessing of the Food is a festive occasion. The three-part blessing prayers specifically address the various contents of the basket, with special prayers for the meats, eggs, cakes & breads.

Prayer for the Blessing of the Breads and Holiday Baked Goods

Chlebie zywy, ktory zstapiles z nieba i dajesz zycie swiatu, poblogoslaw + ten chleb i wszelkie swiateczne pieczywo na pamiatke chleba, ktorym nakarmiles sluchajacych Ciebie wytrwale na pustkowiu i ktory wziales w swoje swiete i czcigodne rece, aby go przemienic w swoje Cialo, Amen

English Summary: The blessing addresses the Bread of Life who died and rose for the life of the world, invoking Him to bless the bread and holiday baked goods in memory of the Bread which is offered at the Priest's hands which becomes His Body.

Prayer for the Blessing of the Meats and Sausages

Baranku Bozy, Ty pokonales zlo i obmyles swiat z grzechow, poblogoslaw + to mieso, wedliny i wszelkie pokarmy, ktore bedziemy jedli na pamiatke baranka paschalnego i swiatecznych potraw, jakie Ty spozyles z Apostolami podczas Ostatniej Wieczerzy.Przez Chrystusa Pana naszego, Amen.

English Summary:

The blessing addresses the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. The Lamb is invoked and asked to bless the meats and sausages, which will become the holiday meal in memory of the Paschal Lamb, as He gave to the Apostles at the Last Supper. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Prayer for the Blessing of the Eggs and Pisanki

Chryste, nasze zycie i zmartwychwstanie, poblogoslaw + znak nowego zycia, abysmy dzielac sie nimi w gronie rodziny, bliskich i gosci, mogli sie takze dzielic wzajemnie radoscia z tego, ze jestes z nami. Pozwol nam wszystkim dojsc do Twojej wiecznej uczty w domu Ojca, gdzie zyjesz i krolujesz na wieki wiekow. Przez Chrystusa Pana naszego, Amen

English Summary:

The blessing addresses Christ, our Life and Resurrection. It asks Him to bless the eggs, the sign of new life; asks Him to remember our family, those near as well as guests, especially those who wait in the hope of being with Him. We wait to accompany Him to His Father's house, where he lives and reigns forever and ever. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Five years ago, Mom celebrated Easter in Arizona. My sister, Melissa, every year made sure mom had a lily to celebrate the holiday. Polish holiday customs and traditions are something our families treasure.

The symbolism of the Easter lily

The trumpet shape of the Easter lily represents a trumpet sounding the message that Jesus has risen, and the nature in which lilies grow is symbolic of the resurrection as well.

Easter Lily Origin

Tradition states that the Easter lily originated in the Garden of Eden by the teardrops of Eve that she spread while leaving the Garden of Eden. They were teardrops of repentance. The Easter lily also has its roots in pagan rituals - specifically, Hera, the queen of motherhood.

For the Christian, the Easter lily is used in a positive sense and represents many things. The Easter lily is representative of Christ's resurrection, it speaks of purity and innocence, being untainted by the world. The Easter lily also represents a new season, a new birth, such as when one comes to Christ.

The Easter lily was officially discovered in 1777 by Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan. After its discovery, the flower made its way to England in 1819 and then arrived at Bermuda in the mid-1800's. It was then named the “Bermuda lily,” but its name was eventually changed to “Easter lily” when the spring-blooming flower was brought to Philadelphia and popularized there as an Easter blossom. A virus destroyed the Easter lily’s production on the island of Bermuda, making Japan the flower’s largest producer once again.

It wasn’t until World War I that the Easter lily started being produced in the United States. When soldier Louis Houghton first saw the flower, he was so captivated by it that he brought a suitcase full of bulbs back to his home state of Oregon in 1919. Houghton started handing out the lilies to his friends, who also happened to be horticulture experts.

As a result, large-scale production of the flower spread across the West Coast of the U.S., and by 1945 more than 1,000 growers in Oregon and California were producing the bulbs, earning the region the title of “Easter Lily Capitol of the World.” Today, Oregon and California grow 95 percent of all Easter lilies. Easter lilies are now one of the most popular potted plants in the U.S., ranking with poinsettias, mums and azaleas.

Known to Christians as the “white-robed apostle of hope,” the Easter lily has also been a religious symbol since the birth of the Christian religion. The flower is even mentioned in the Bible quite a few times. It is said that when Eve shed tears of remorse as she and Adam left the Garden of Eden, white lilies sprang up where her tears fell.

Easter lilies are also admired as a symbol of motherhood and the Virgin Mary. In artwork, she is often depicted receiving a bundle of white lilies from the angel Gabriel at Jesus’ birth, and the flowers were said to have been found in her tomb after her death.

The most famous biblical reference to the Easter lily is when Jesus told his followers, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: They toil not, neither do they spin; and yet … Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” It’s also believed that the lilies grew where Jesus’ sweat and tears fell to the ground during his crucifixion. Many churches today continue the long-held tradition and commemorate the resurrection of Jesus by adorning their altars with pure white Easter lilies.

So whether you’re buying it as a gift for a friend or using it to decorate your own home, the Easter lily is certainly the most stunning and meaningful way to celebrate on Easter Sunday.

Easter Lily and lily of the valley

White flowers like the Easter lily often symbolize purity and innocence. For Christians, this purity and innocence is associated with Christ. Lilies also have religious significance from being mentioned in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments. Lilies of the valley were mentioned by King Solomon several times and referenced by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. The lily of the valley symbolizes the Advent of Christ and the purity of the Virgin Mary, according to "Signs & Symbols in Christian Art" from Oxford University Press.

Tulips are the ultimate spring flower. Beautiful and vibrant, these flowers come in an array of different colors. White tulips are associated with forgiveness, a common theme for Easter. The purple tulip represents royalty, so a bouquet with white and purple tulips would celebrate the royalty of Jesus Christ as the son of God.

The tulip has its origins in Turkey but became associated with Holland after being cultivated by the Dutch. A little-known and interesting fact about tulips is that their bulbs became so prized that they were used as currency for a time. Tulips remain popular to this day because of their beauty and versatility.

Irises symbolize the Passion of Christ and resurrection, as told in historical manuscripts at The Getty. Irises come in different colors, each with their own symbolism. According to the Journal of Experimental Botany, "iris" is a Greek word that means "rainbow" (because of its many available colors). The flowers have sword-like petals, which may explain why the flowers are sometimes referred to as "sword lilies," according to "Signs & Symbols in Christian Art". The upright petals of the iris are said to symbolize the three virtues: faith, valor, and wisdom.

Baby's breath symbolizes innocence and purity. On Easter, this refers to the purity of Christ. They mostly come in white, though pink baby's breath is sometimes found. These delicate, tiny flowers are often used as filler in bouquets and make for gorgeous arrangements.

If any flower is iconic of spring, the daisy is a given. White daisies symbolize hope, serenity, and purity, according to Eastern Floral. The dandelion also have some religious symbolism for Easter. According to "Symbols of the Christian Faith", by Alva William Steffler, it was featured in Flemish and German paintings of the Crucifixion and thus came to represent the Passion of Christ.

This centuries old custom of Święconka is indeed richly symbolic and beautiful. It is one in which the whole family can participate and help prepare. May this tradition endure for many generations to come.


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