TST, Vol. 9, Issue No. 26/2002

by Robert Strybel

In Catholic tradition, Easter is not only a more important occasion than Christmas -- its essence, Christ's Resurrection, is the central theme of Christianity. That theological fact is not necessarily reflected in the way people today celebrate those two holidays. In America and, to an increasing extent, in Poland it is marketability rather than tradition that dictates what is and what is not pushed, promoted and publicized. Today's 'Commer-Yule' with its all-out several-month-long shopping extravaganza, dazzling decorations, giftmania and high-powered Christmas partying far eclipses mainstream American Easter. Especially since the latter falls on a Sunday, and the following Monday (unlike Poland where Easter Monday is a legal holiday) is a normal working day. Both in Poland and across Polonia, whether Easter traditions are kept alive depends largely on the religiosity of a given family or group.
That is best illustrated by the different stages of the Easter season: Pre-Lenten Carnival (Mardi Gras), Lent, Easter and its aftermath. There is considerable media hoopla surrounding the free-wheeling Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro and Venice, Italy, except the main point of it all is missed. All the celebrating makes sense only if it is followed by Lent, but that penitential period of prayer and self-denial is largely ignored by the media. Once Mardi Gras has ended, they prefer to focus on preparations for the foods, fashions and decorations of Easter, the more lavish (expensive!) and self-indulgent -- the better (for those raking in the profits).
A religious person is not necessarily a fanatic in sackcloth and ashes who spends most of Lent on his or her knees in church. But people who are more religiously inclined simply tend to attach more importance to tradition, symbols, family, values such as altruism and the deeper meaning of life. Here are a few examples of how the change of pace ensured by traditional practices can translate into a more interesting, rewarding and meaningful Easter experience.

-- FASTING: The joy of Easter can be fully experienced only when it has been preceded by the proper spiritual preparation. And Easter delicacies are never more fully enjoyed and appreciated than after seven weeks of conscious self-denial. A 40-day meager food intake is also a healthy way to unclog the gastric tract and give your system a good spring cleaning! (And abstaining drinkers and smokers will give their livers nad lungs a much-deserved rest!)

-- MEDITATION: Whether you meditate on the Mysteries of the Faith or simply stop, take stock of yourself and give some serious thought to your life, family and the future, such time out from today's loud, confused, fast-paced, media-fueled world can do most anyone a world of good.

-- ALMS: Helping the poor has long been a Lenten tradition. You may not find beggars clustering round the entrance of your church or cemetery as they once did in the Old Country, but the needy remain plentiful today. Aiding the poor, homeless, lonely, house-bound or bedridden with material assistance or moral support can be a most rewarding experience. Consider inviting someone living alone to share in the delicacies of your Easter table.

-- RELIGIOUS SERVICES: Try to attend Gorzkie Zale (Bitter Lamentations) or Stations of the Cross at least once during Lent. Even if you don't understand Polish that well, the haunting mood of Gorzkie Zale will surely get to you. Holy Thursday and Good Friday services, the Holy Saturday food blessing and Easter Morning Mass can help you achieve peace with God and fellow-man.

-- FAMILY: Lent and Easter are a good time do devote more time to your family. Even if you have never done so, this year why not suggest a craft project (such as Polish palms, pisanki or wycinanki). Be sure to involve youngsters in the preparation of the traditional swieconka (Easter basket). Start the tradition of visiting the Lord's Tomb tableaux in different Polish RC and PNC Churches. Attend some Polish community event: a Polish Easter play, Easter hymn concert, swieconka, Dyngus Day or other organized festivities.

-- SWIECONE: Even if you have never prepared the traditional Polish Easter breakfast, why not give it a go this year? You will find recipes in this paper and in the many good Polish cookbooks now on the market. If there are youngsters around, involve them in any cooking and baking you may do so they feel more a part of the festivities.

-- EGG SHARING: Even if you lack the time, desire and know-how to prepare the traditional Polish-style Easter breakfast (hard-cooked eggs, ham, kie_basa, Easter cakes, etc.), at least start your ordinary breakfast by sharing wedges of blessed Easter eggs. The English word 'breakfast' will never be more meaningful, for the symbol of New Life is used to break the Lenten fast.

-- WET EASTER MONDAY: The chance to sprinkle parents, siblings and others with water without getting scolded or punished will naturally be enjoyed by prank-loving youngsters. In warm, sunny weather this can be good fun for the entire family.
This year try incorporating some of the above into your regular Easter routine. See if you and yours don't find it all more rewarding than those families for whom Easter is largely confined to such things as new spring outfits and chocolate rabbits.
* How Polonia in US celebrates Easter
* The Polish Chef
* The Polish Swiecone Spread
* Easy Swiecone for Beginners

TST, Vol. 9, Issue No. 26/2002

The Summit Times

Copyright 2002 by Andrzej M. Salski