Sarubbi family members: Daughters Anna and Teresa, Joe and Laura Sarubbi, and daughter Kate. Courtesy photo
Sarubbi family members: Daughters Anna and Teresa, Joe and Laura Sarubbi, and daughter Kate. Courtesy photo
The universal Catholic experience of Holy Week and Easter holds so many things in common, with the liturgies and rubrics each day the same in every Catholic church worldwide. But within that shared commemoration is room for Easter traditions unique as the families that celebrate them: cultural or customary foods, prayers and practices that help them to mark the occasion in varied and meaningful ways.

Chito Sarrol

Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro

Chito Sarrol, parishioner and music minister in Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, recalls with fondness the celebrations of Holy Week and Easter in the Philippines, where he and his wife Hermie grew up.

“As Holy Week starts, one noticeable tradition is that either no music is played, or at the very least, only somber music can be heard until Easter Sunday,” he described. “Palm Sunday signals the start of the celebration with handmade ornate palms outside the church,” which are then used for the celebration of Palm Sunday Mass.

The Filipino practice of visiting seven churches, called “Visita Iglesia,” takes place on Holy Thursday, Sarrol noted. Then on Good Friday, the “Pabasa ng Pasyon,” or Reading of the Passion of Christ, takes place to commemorate Christ’s suffering and death. “The reading is attended by a group of devotees and ends at noon on Good Friday, or at 3 p.m., coinciding with the time of Jesus’ death,” he said.

“Easter is celebrated with entire family attending Holy Mass,” Sarrol continued, “followed by a family feast usually held at the home of the matriarch or patriarch of the family.”

Julia Cwalina
St. Hedwig Parish, Trenton

For the Cwalina family in Hamilton, Easter is about faith, family and the celebration of beloved Polish traditions. One of the traditions that Julia and her family celebrate each year is the “Blessing of the Easter baskets” or “Swieconka” which occurs in St. Hedwig Parish, Trenton.

“On Holy Saturday morning we go down to church and we bring a basket of food. The basket is filled with bread, eggs, meat and other food that all represent something,” Julia Cwalina, 14, explained.

According to the Polish tradition, and shared by many Eastern Europeans, the basket, which is decorated with flowers and ribbons is lined with an often-embroidered cloth that symbolizes the shroud that covered the body of Jesus in the tomb.

Inside the basket, the egg symbolizes life and the Resurrection; the bread is symbolic of Jesus; the butter lamb represents Christ; the salt is purification, horseradish symbolizes the bitter sacrifice of Christ; ham or kielbasa is a symbol of joy and abundance.

Julia, her parents and her brothers take the basket to St. Hedwig’s where Fr. Jacek Labinski, pastor, says special prayers for the food as he blesses each basket.

“After the food is blessed, we take it home,” Cwalina said. “Then the blessed food is what we eat Easter Sunday morning.”

Laura Sarubbi
St. Paul Parish, Princeton

Laura Bacich Sarubbi’s Croatian family of origin enjoyed the traditions of baking special Easter bread from a family recipe as well as having it blessed on Holy Saturday morning at church in a basket with eggs and other special fare, and incorporated into an Easter Sunday meal that included lamb, and a new Easter outfit that was “gizdavac” – or “fancy” in Croatian.

But her most treasured memories center around the Triduum in the Croatian Catholic parish of Sts. Cyril and Methodius and St. Raphael in Manhattan, N.Y., as a child in the 1970s – where the transition from music in a minor key to acapella to the glorious major keys of Easter morning was a tangible reminder of the Church’s holiest season.

“The Triduum is still my three favorite days – they’re steeped in such devotion,” recalled Sarubbi, who serves as St. Paul’s director of religious education. In her childhood church near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, “Every song during Lent was in a minor key. Then on Holy Thursday there would be a [replica of a] tomb set up” where the Eucharist would be reposed following Mass. “The moment Mass was over, the organ would be locked, and every song on Good Friday and Holy Saturday would be sung acapella.”

Good Friday services in the Croatian parish began with an outdoor procession and Stations of the Cross with a giant wooden cross that men of the parish took turns carrying for an entire city block.

“My grandmother talked about how in Croatia when you enter the church on Good Friday, it’s on your knees – you would drag yourself kneeling up to the tomb to pray,” Sarubbi recalled, noting that it was customary for people to remain after the service for several hours on their knees.

“The whole weekend is all about remembering the sacrifice and celebrating the Resurrection,” she continued. “My grandmother often reminded me that ‘we all have to live through Good Friday to celebrate Easter.’”