I'll admit it. I miss my "Polish family."
In years past on this day, I'd have taken my basket of traditional Polish foods over to Our Lady of Mount Carmel to be blessed, along with a children's basket (filled with candy, puzzles, games and a stuffed animal) to be donated to a family in need and a box of non-parishables for the local food bank.
Blessing of Food Baskets at OLMC had to be done in 4 "seatings" from 1 to 3 PM in order to accommodate all of the families. The sanctuary was a riot of brightly-colored baskets for the children on one side, and a mountain of boxes and bags of food for the poor on the other. To one side, a long table was set up with all of the foods that had been prepared for the Ptak Family meal. (Fr. Walter Ptak was the pastor and my boss. He grew up in the parish and had a huge family that still lives in Wyandotte.) Fr. Ptak also displayed his sizable collection of lambs made of sugar, porcelain, pottery, wood and other materials, and some of his pisanki, which are brightly and elaborately decorated eggs, also made of wood, pottery or real blown eggshells.
I recently wrote to one of Fr. Ptak's sisters who each year generously gave me a loaf of płacek, a yeast-raised sweet bread with blanched raisins and a crumb topping, to put in my blessed food basket. I told her how much I missed these traditions and the difficulty I was having locating some of the more important foods for a traditional food basket. She said, "I think you must really be Polish and kidnapped at birth!" I doubt it, but I will tell you that when the Poles take you into their own, you are Polish by adoption, and to have been steeped in that tradition (the village tradition as lived out by Polonia in Wyandotte), it really does get into your bones.
Just for memory's sake, here is a picture of the last basket I put together, along with an explanation of what is in it and how the blessing is performed.
From the top, you see a bundle with pussy willows, myrtle and a palmki bound with a red ribbon. Each are a part of the tradition, pussy willows and myrtle both representing new life; next is the neck of a bottle of a Polish sweet table wine (the name of which I cannot remember, but it was purchased at Srodek's in Hamtramck); tucked underneath you can see part of the small round loaf of "blessing bread" and then the butter lamb, next is a ring of smoked kiełbasa; in the middle are small dishes of horseradish prepared with beets (called chrzon) and salt. The eggs are died with onion skins, which produce a beautiful cordovan color and are 100% natural. Then comes a small picnic ham, the sugar lamb I bought that year and finally a small portion of płacek. The white cloth you see rolled up is a traditional linen basket cover with beautiful eyelet work in it.
For the blessing, tradition has it that a basket, filled with various symbolic foods that are eaten after attendance at the first resurrection Mass of the day, is brought to the church on Holy Saturday and blessed. The blessing begins with a traditional liturgical greeting, "Niech będze pochwalony Jezus Chrystus ; Na wieki wieków. Amen." There is then a brief explanation of the traditions, then three blessings: one for the eggs, one for the bread and one for the meat. The priest then processes through the church sprinkling the people and the baskets with holy water. He concludes the service by exhorting the people to continue in their prayers in preparation for the Great Vigil, and to continue abstaining from meat until after the first resurrection Mass on Sunday. The full tradition is that one fasts and abstains from meat on Good Friday, and continues to abstain from meat through Holy Saturday until after attending the resurrection Mass on Easter Sunday. The first food to be shared is the blessed egg, the symbol of new and eternal life. This is typically eaten with horseradish to remind us of the bitterness of Christ’s Passion. Then all other foods are fair game, including various meats and sweets.
Next, I'll post pictures of my modest pisanki and sugar lamb collection.