Our Polish Heritage

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My parents, Amiel Zak and Mary Anne Kelly, were married in Sacred Heart Church but agreed to raise their children in the Polish Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s. So, in addition to attending several extra church services during Holy Week, my family was getting ready for Fr. Henry Fiedorczyk’s visit to bless our Easter meal on Saturday. My mother and I would work all week to ensure all the items were prepared before his arrival. We would set the dining table with ham, kielbasa, bread, eggs, salt, butter, a cake and a candle.

At the time, all the items just seemed to be the typical menu for Easter dinner. I have since learned that each item (except maybe the cake) had a special religious significance. For instance: the butter, sometimes molded into the shape of a lamb, was to remind us of God’s goodwill; the eggs were a symbol of new life; the salt represented prosperity; the kielbasa was a sign of God’s favor and generosity; the ham symbolized joy and abundance; and the candle signified Christ as the light of the world. (To learn more about this tradition, go to https://www.polishamericancenter.org/SwieconkaBasket.htm.)

These days, the food is arranged in a basket and brought to church to be blessed on Holy Saturday. The baskets are adorned with linens, ribbons, and sometimes, pussy willows which are the Polish substitute for palms. According to custom, since palms did not grow in Poland, the pussy willow, one of the earliest plants to blossom in the spring, was chosen to symbolize renewal. (The Polish also have a legend about how the fur-like buds represent kittens that were spared from drowning by a willow on the edge of a river in which they were being swept away.)

This year, Fr. Joseph Keough, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, will continue the Polish tradition of blessing the Easter Basket on Holy Saturday at 10 a.m. All are welcome to attend. It is not necessary to be a member of the Sacred Heart Parish or Polish to partake in this meaningful custom. The Polish Heritage Society adds a special welcome to anyone initially from Poland or Ukraine.

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