By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Hours would pass before Kasia Pawka, her husband, Jacek and their daughters Marta and Ula could breakfast on the culinary treasures that filled the woven reed basket sitting tucked between them on a pew in Lakewood’s St. Mary of the Lake Church.
But the thought of those contents, and the fragrance of them as the scents of some 300 similarly filled baskets wafted through the air set mouths watering. It was the annual blessing of the baskets April 20 by Father Marian F. Kokorzycki, parochial vicar, and the anticipation of breaking the fasts of Lent on Easter Morning was palpable.
Photo Gallery: Blessing of the Baskets
“Kielbasa, eggs, bread, Babka, eggs, candy … they’ll be blessed now by Father Marian,” said parishioner Kasia Pawka.
“This is a strongly Polish custom,” she said. “It’s a traditional breakfast for Easter, and it’s something everyone enjoys keeping. We’re so pleased to be here with our basket.”
It’s tradition in many Eastern European countries and one followed by generations of mainly Slavic Catholics to have their Easter break fast sanctified in the hope that God will bless their homes with goodness and mercy during the season of Resurrection, Father Kokorzycki said, estimating that upward of 700 faithful from around the area had their baskets blessed during Holy Saturday morning services.
According to tradition, the foods placed in the baskets are rich in religious symbolism with eggs as a reminder of life and rebirth; sausage, ham or kielbasa are included because all types of pork, forbidden under the dietary code of the earlier law, became acceptable under the New Testament.
A focal point is usually a Paschal lamb fashioned out of butter, cake, chocolate or even ceramic as symbolic of Christ, and bread representing Christ as “the Bread of Life.” Other ingredients may include vinegar, a reminder of the gall given to Jesus at the Crucifixion; wine, symbolic of his Blood sacrifice, and horseradish or another green herb symbolic of the bitter herbs of the Passover.
Sylvia Baszac and her youngsters, Hubert and Maya, 10 and Filip, 6, were happy to have their basket blessed to take home to Colts Neck, where they are members of St. Mary Parish. The children smiled as their mom shared how they had prepared the baskets as a family, dying the eggs the night before.
“It is a family thing we enjoy doing every year,” said Sylvia Baszac, who emigrated with her husband, Tomasz, from Warsaw. She said passing down Polish Catholic traditions and customs to the younger generations is an important part of family life.
Lakewood parishioner Robert Figiela agreed. “It’s a good thing for children to learn … about their roots,” said Figiela, who came from southeast Poland, close to Krakow, before settling in New Jersey in 1995.