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

How Polonia in US Celebrates Easter
by Robert Strybel

In our age of networking, learning what Polish Americans in different parts of the country do at this time of year may help enrich your own family and/or community celebrations. Here are some things worth looking into:

Readers whose families may have drifted away from their Polish roots or never really knew that much about them are urged to get "Polish Customs, Traditions & Folklore" by Sophie Hodorowicz-Knab. In it one of Polonia's most knowledgeable experts on things Polish describes the Polish traditions associated with all 12 months of the year. The chapters devoted to March and April contain a clear and concise presentation of most everything a Polish American needs to know about his ancestral Lenten and Easter heritage. This "must" read is available at: Polish-American Bookstore, 1275 Harlem Road, Buffalo, NY 14206; toll-free phone: 1 (800) 422-1274; website:

Unlike Christmas which always falls on December 25th, Easter is a movable feast. That means that not only Easter Sunday but all the other occasions of the season (Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Pentecost, Ascension Thursday and Corpus Christ) fall on different days. The following calendar may help you plan ahead and may be especially useful to communities in which different parishes and organizations take turns holding various celebrations.

2002 March 31
2003 April 20
2004 April 11
2005 March 27
2006 April 16
2007 April 8
2008 March 23
2009 April 12
2010 April 4


If there is no good Polish import or specialty shop in your area, the place to contact for all Easter-related supplies, artifacts and treats is Hamtramck, Michigan's Polish Art Center. This includes Easter eggs of every type as well as egg-coloring kits, Polish dried-flower "Palm Sunday palms," books on Polish customs and traditions, videos, recordings, gift items, folk crafts, sweets, dried mushrooms, import syrups, Polish instant soups, cake mixes and much more. If you are holding an Easter bazaar and plan to order in quantity, you can expect a wholesale discount which will enable your fund-raiser to turn a good profit. To see their catalogue, place an order or obtain more information contact: Polish Art Center, 9539 Joseph Campau Ave, Hamtramck, MI 48212; phone: (313) 874-2242; e-mail:; website:


Easter bazaars have long been held by Polish parishes and clubs to supply the goods and delicacies needed to properly celebrate Polish-style Easter. This may be just a bake sale (babka, sernik, mazurki, pascha, chalka, rye bread, etc.) or include other Easter foods (zur, kielbasa, ham, pork loin, cwikla, horseradish, other sauces for eggs and cold meats). A complete offer would include various craft items such as pisanki, pisanki kits, Polish palms, Easter Lambs and butter-lamb molds, wicker baskets, boxwood, pussywillows, wycinanki, books, recordings, videos, etc.


If you live in or near one of America's major Polonian centers, then you will have many Polish bakeries, delis, sausage shops and groceries to choose from. If you live off Polonia's beaten track and would nevertheless like to relive the Easter culinary memories of your childhood, here are a few companies that can supply you with Polish treats over the miles:
-- Polana, Inc., Chicago, IL; traditional Easter delights -- different varieties of kielbasa, ham, poledwica, stuffed veal breast, Polish mustard, horseradish, breads, babka, cheesecake, etc. delivered to your doorstep; information and phone orders toll-free: (888) 756-2651; Internet orders:; website:
-- Kowalski Sausage Company, Hamtramck, MI; Polish-style kielbasa, ham and cold cuts shipped US-wide; phone: (313) 873-8200; website:; e-mail:
-- Redlinski Sausage Co., Buffalo, NY; Polish-style kielbasa and pierogi shipped US-wide; phone toll-free: (800) 867-4070; e-mail:
-- Bobak's Sausage Co., Chicago, IL; wide variety of genuine Polish-style sausages, smoked meats and other delicacies available at stores throughout the US; for information phone: (773) 735-5334.
-- E-Babka; Polish babkas in different flavors available only via the Internet:

Whereas the typical Polish-American Swieconka (Easter party) is usually held during the week after Easter, Don Samull, a life-long Detroit-area educator, has developed a unique way to educate fellow-Polonians about the Polish Easter heritage. The first gathering of this two-stage Swieconka is a theoretical slide/lecture program (this year being held on March 21 in Dearborn Heights), designed to teach participants about the different traditions. Those in attendance have the option of signing up for the celebratory second stage or the Swieconka proper (being held this year on March 23 at Hamtramck's Under the Eagle Restaurant) which will demonstrate how all the traditions, delicacies and music fall into place. To sign up or learn how to do something similar in your area, give Don a call at: (313) 792-0297.

Several years ago, activists of the small but vibrant Polish-American Cultural Institute of Minnesota decided to try their hand at making Poland's traditional rod-type Palm Sunday bouquets (palms) of dried wildflowers and evergreens. If I recall, they only had pictures to go on and yet they came up with creations of true beauty that impressed the local pastor and parishioners alike. For details on how they went about it, contact Judith Blanchard at (763) 571-9602. For whatever reason, Polish palms are far less common in Polonia than pisanki. But this colorfully unique folk-art form deserves to publicized more widely and would make a great craft project for clubs, parishes, youth groups, etc. In Poland, the "palmy" range in size from several inches to 10, 20 and even 30 feet in height!

Complete pisanki-making kits contain all the supplies (stylus, beeswax, dyes, holder, etc.) and instructions you'll need to create Poland's beautiful two-colored and multi-colored patterned Easter eggs. All that is lacking is the experience, hence the popularity of pisanki-making courses held at various venues across Polonia. Such courses have been held over the years at Chicago's Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622; phone: (773) 384-3352 or 384-3731.

Orchard Lake theology professor, Rev. Czeslaw Krysa, Polonia's foremost authority on Polish Easter customs, has passed along this old method for coloring the most traditional, peasant-style solid-color Easter eggs. Pour 1-2 qt water into a pot. Add the onion skins from a 5-lb bag of onions, 1 T salt and 1/2 c vinegar. Place 12 room-temp eggs into the water and slowly bring to boil over med heat to avoid cracking. When water boils, immediately remove pot from heat and allow it to cool to room temp. Remove eggs and pat dry. Rub eggs with vegetable shortening to give them a deep luster.


A Holy Thursday Pilgrimage to the Detroit's old inner-city Polish churches has been held for the past two decades. This year it is being held on March 28. Buses will leave from three pre-arranged points in Metropolitan Detroit in time for 6 pm Mass at St Hyacinth's. A Polish dinner will follow and four or five other Polish parishes will be visited. The all- inclusive cost is $30 per person. For reservations of further information phone: (313) 922-1507) or (586) 772-2378. Originally pioneered by Detroit's culturally militant youth group, the Polish-American Folk Theater, this is a total experience that combines the beauty of Poland's age-old religious and cultural Holy Week heritage. Pol-Am groups in other parts of the US might consider holding a similar event in their local area.


Sorrowful services recalling Christ's Passion and Death, plaintive Lenten hymns, adoration of the Cross and prayers at Christ's Tomb are the main religious practices of Good Friday, the most solemn day of the year in the Catholic calendar. Polish churches across the US are often better able to convey the proper somber mood than mainstream American parishes whose hymns many Polonians find less moving and the Lord's Tomb is not always set up. Readers who find themselves in the proximity during Holy Week might consider visiting any of the following religious centers:
-- American Czestochowa Shrine, Shrine Ferry Road in Doylestown, PA (near Philadelphia), Polonia's major East Coast religious and cultural center; phone: (215) 345-0600.
-- St Stanislaus Cathedral, the first parish of the Polish National Catholic Church, founded by religious reformer Rev. Franciszek Hodur just before the turn of the 20th century; 529 E. Locust St, Scranton, PA 18505.
-- Salvatorian Fathers' Shrine of O.L. of Czestochowa (near Chicago), a true Polonian religious/cultural center; 5755 Pennsylvania Ave, Merrilville, IN 46410; phone: (219) 884-0714.
-- St. Joseph's Polish Church, religious and cultural hub of the Rocky Mountain Polonia; 517 E. 46th Ave, Denver, CO 80216; phone: (303) 989-5495.
-- St. Hyacinth's RC Church, probably America's best-known Polish parish at the heart of Chicago's legendary Polonian neighborhood known as Jackowo; 3636 W. Wolfram ST; phone: (773)342-3636.
Note: For the address of the Polish parish nearest the place you plan to visit over Easter ask the local office of the Polish-American Congress. To find out how to contact your nearest PAC branch phone: (773) 763-9944 or visit website:


Presenting a several-day-long Passion Pageant of the kind held each year at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska with hundreds of actors would be a staggering proposition. But the story of Christ's Passion and Death can be approached selective -- only one or two scenes can be re-enacted. Whether the play is confined largely to dialogues or also includes stage sets, costumes and props is a matter for to be decided locally. If a prepared text is not readily available, simply select one or more Station of the Cross as the basis of your presentation.


Here is what you can tell youngsters about the content of the Easter basket they are helping you prepare:
-- The white linen or lace napkin that lines the wicker basket may be perceived as the shroud the enwrapped the body of Christ;
-- the Easter Lamb, made of butter or sugar (rock candy), but also of dough, wood, plaster, fleece or even plastic, symbolizes the sacrificial Paschal lamb, in other words Jesus himself, whose banner proclaims the victory of life over death.
-- Easter eggs symbolize new life; just as a chick pecks its way out of its shell, so too Christ rose from His tomb to bring us the promise of eternal life.
-- bread, either a slice of ordinary rye bread or a special small round loaf imprinted with a cross, symbolizes ‘the bread of life_, a metaphor for the God's grace.
-- meat & sausage are symbolic of the Paschal lamb or Christ resurrected, His victory over death and His promise of eternal life.
-- horseradish is one of the bitter herbs of the Passover which foretold the suffering of Christ on the Cross. It is also symbolic of life in which one must accept the bitter with the sweet.
-- vinegar symbolizes the sour wine (our English word "vinegar" comes from the French vin aigre -- sour wine) which Jesus was given on a sponge to drink while hanging on the cross.
-- salt symbolizes that which preserves us from corruption and adds zest to daily life.
-- cakes and confections symbolizing the sweetness of eternal life can now (follow weeks of Lenten self-denial) be freely enjoyed in celebration Christ's Resurrection.


Before the peasant-style custom of blessing food in our outside church became widespread, self-respecting Polish homes would set up a special swieconka table which the priest would come to bless. If you can get a priest to come and do the honors, consider setting up such a table in your home, at a school or nursing home. Even after Holy Saturday, it would add a festive holiday touch to your parish or club Swieconka (Easter party) or Dyngus Day festivities. Loops of green garlands (boxwood or cranberry leaves strung together with catgut) trim the sides of a white-table-cloth-covered table. On it are placed bowls of eggs (plain and colored), platters of sausage, ham and other meats, (a whole suckling pig with a pisanka in its mouth was once a must!), dishes of _wik_a and horseradish, tall babkas, flat mazurkas and cheesecake and a loaf of rye bread with an elevated flag-bearing Easter Lamb as the centerpriece overlooking the entire spread. Abundant vegetation (potted palms, ferns, pussywillows, forsythias, daffodils, hyacinths) are the ideal backdrop.


It is worth driving across town or even to a neighboring community to be able to take part in this beautiful Holy Saturday custom, the more so if you are able to expose your youngsters to it as well. Young children will be eager to help arrange the Easter basket and take it to church, so capitalize on their enthusaism to explain this tradition to them.
If this custom is not practiced in your area, perhaps some priest can be persuaded to introduce it. Just in case he says he'd be happy to but doesn't know the proper prayers, here is a text provided by retired Orchard Lake theology professor, Monsignor Zdzislaw Peszkowski (followed by my English translation):

Panie Jezu Chryste, Ty w dzien przed meka i smiercia kazales uczniom przygotowac paschalna wieczerze, w dzien Zmartwychwstania przyjales zaproszenie dwoch uczniow i zasiadles z nimi do stolu, a poznym wieczorem przyszedles do apostolow, aby spozyc wraz z nimi posilek; prosimy Cie, daj nam z wiara przezywac Twoja obecnosc miedzy nami podczas swiatecznego posilku, w dzien Twojego zwyciestwa, abysmy mogli sie radowac z udzialu w Twoim zyciu i zmartwychwstaniu.
Chlebie zywy, ktory zstapiles z nieba i w Komunii swietej dajesz zycie swiatu, poblogoslaw ten chleb i wszelkie swiateczne pieczywo na pamiatke chleba, ktorym nakarmiles lud sluchajacy Ciebie wytrwale na pustkowiu, i ktory po swym zmartwychwstaniu przygotowales nad jeziorem dla swoich uczniow.
Baranku Bozy, ktory zwyciezyles zlo i obmyles swiat z grzechow, poblogoslaw to mieso, wedliny i wszelkie pokarmy, ktore bedziemy jedli na pamiatke Baranka paschalnego i swiatecznych potraw, ktore Ty spozyles z Apostolami na Ostatniej Wieczerzy. Poblogoslaw takze nasza sol, aby chronila nas od zepsucia.
Chryste, zycie i Zmartwychwstanie nasze, poblogoslaw te jajka, znak nowego zycia, abysmy dzielac sie nimi w gronie rodziny i gosci, mogli sie takze dzielic wzajemnie radoscia z tego, ze jestes z nami. Daj nam wszystkim dojsc do wiecznej uczty Twojej, tam, gdzie Ty zyjesz i krolujesz na wieki wiekow. Amen.

(Lord Jesus Christ, who the day before your passion and death, told your disciples to prepare the paschal supper, on the day of your Resurrection accepted the invitation of two disciples and sat down to the table with them and late that evening came to the Apostles to consume a meal with them, we implore You to let us in faith experience your presence amongst us during the festive repast on the day of Your victory, that we might rejoice at taking part in Your life and resurrection.
Living Bread, who came down from heaven and in Holy Communion gives life to the world, bless this bread and all holiday baked goods in memory of the bread with which You fed the people devoutly listening to You in the desert and in memory of the holiday dishes you consumed with the Apostles during the Last Supper. Bless also our salt that it may protect us from corruption.
Lord Jesus Christ, our life and Resurrection, bless these eggs, the sign of new life, so that when we share them with our families, close friends and guests, we might also mutually share the joy that You are with us. May we all attain Your eternal feast there, where you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.)


The early-morning Mass of Resurrection on Easter Sunday traditionally gets under way at daybreak (usually 6 am), but to accommodate the ‘sleepy heads_ some Pol-Am parishes hold it at 7, 8, even as late as 9 pm. Wherever Rezurekcja is held the traditional way, with all the beautiful old Polish hymns and the procession that thrice encircles the outside of the church, it is a truly uplifting experience worth traveling some distance to attend. Depending on the church_s location and local demand, a bus trip for the benefit of the elderly, those who don_t like to drive into the inner city anymore and others might be considered. Just announcing such an opportunity is likely to generate some demand. A parish swiecone could follow in the church basement or parish hall.

FAMILY SWIECONE (Easter breakfast/brunch)

Like Wigilia (Christmas Eve supper), the ?wi?cone (Easter morning breakfast or brunch) was originally meant to be held at home in one_s closest family circle. The notion of organizing a community Easter party (Swieconka) was a Polish-American invention. The breakfast is served as soon after returning from Easter Morning Mass as those preparing the meal are able to slice the food, arrange the platters and bring them to the table. Often the table is set ahead of time before leaving for church.
The festive breakfast starts with grace and the sharing of wedges of blessed Easter eggs. The host or hostess goes from guest to guest with a plate containing the eggs cut into quarters (and possibly sprinkled with the blessed salt and pepper). Each guest impales their wedge on a fork, wishes all present "Wesolego Alleluja" and consumes the egg, marking the official "breaking of the Lenten fast." Except for warming up the Easter soup (bialy barszcz or zurek), if such is served, and brewing coffee or tea, no cooking is done on Easter Sunday and cold eggs, meats, salads and garnishes reign supreme. Hot dishes are reserved for Easter Monday in Poland. Since that is not a legal holiday in America, the two occasions can be nicely rolled into one.

COMMUNITY SWIECONE (Easter Sunday breakfast)

The idea of holding a community swiecone (Easter breakfast or brunch) on parish premises or in a Pol-Am hall or restaurant on Easter morning after Mass would be ideal in places where:
-- The traditional Polish Easter breakfast is no longer held in most homes.
-- There are many senior citizens living alone as well as retired couples who no longer do much cooking.
-- A bus trip to attend Rezurekcja has been organized for the benefit of people from outlying areas.
-- Many local Polonians celebrate an Easter dinner later in the day but have nothing to do in the morning hours and might find such a swiecone to be an interesting change of pace.
-- There exists an interest in Polish traditions but not knowledge as to how to go about it.
In addition to the festive meal, the program should include at least a brief introduction to Polish Easter traditions and recorded Easter hymns as background music. The more ambitious might consider a concert of sacred Polish music (see below) or the re-enactment of Easter customs by a Polish folk-dance group. Note: The Swiecone (Easter breakfast) is somewhat different from the Polish-American Swieconka (Easter party) which often includes social dancing.


If held during Lent, such a concert should be confined to Lenten hymns and other compositions focusing on Christ's Passion and Death. If held on the evening of Easter Sunday or later in the week it may comprise solely Easter hymns or, better yet also include Lenten hymns to emphasize the evolution from the mournful Passion hymns to the triumphant songs of Resurrection. A church provides the ideal setting for such a concert. Favorite Lenten hymns include: "Stala Matka bolesciwa", "Ach, moj Jezu", "Krzyzu swiety" and "Ludu moj ludu". Among the best-known Easter hymns are: "Wesoly nam dzin dzien nastal," "Nie zna smierci Pan zywota". This concert can also be performed as part of a community Swieconka (Easter party) held in a hall.


Like the Swieconka community Easter party, Dyngus Day as an organized Easter Monday social is also a Polish-American contribution unknown in the Old Country. For some reason, this custom is practiced most intensively in two communities at the opposite ends of the Great Lakes: South Bend, Indiana, and Buffalo, New York. In South Bend, in addition to the food and festivities, it has become the traditional occasion for politicians meeting with potential Polish-American voters. Buffalo has even set up a Dyngus Day website ( which informs internauts that "Dyngus Day is a fun-loving Polish celebration, It is a joyous occasion following the somber mood of Lent and the solemnity of Easter. It is a day of feasting, drinking, playing pranks and merry-making."There is even an official "GET WET Dyngus Day" T-shirt available.


Try holding this traditional Easter Monday parish fair as a separate event or as part of your Dyngus Day or Swieconka (even if the later is held later than Easter Monday). Besides traditional Easter items such as wooden Easter eggs and Dyngus Day squatters, this bazaar could feature various Polish folkcrafts such as carved wooden spoons, cutting-boards, salt-cellars, etc., old-fashioned wooden toys, wycinanki plus assorted souvenirs, gift items, books, recordings, videos, song sheets, ethnic novelties and the like.


The swieconka or community Easter party has been held in Polonian parishes and clubs as long as anyone can remember. It is soemthing like the community swiecone (Easter breakfast) described above except less solemn and more lively, because it is usually held after Easter. If a priest is on hand, the food may be ceremoniously blessed before people dig in. At least a brief explanation of Polish Easter is recommended considering the growing number of Americans of mixed ethnic backgrounds.
Apart from the Polish Easter foods and traditional social (polka) dancing, the following attractions could be included:
-- Decorations: a large WESOLEGO ALLELUJA! banner to greet guests, possibly incorporating such traditional motifs as the Easter Lamb, pisanki and pussywillows;
-- Concert of Polish Easter hymns performed by a choir.
-- A Polish Easter sing-along with the words to the hymns provided on song-sheets; if instrumental accompaniment is not available, people can sing along with a recording.
-- Easter church fair (see Emaus above).
-- Polish Easter Panorama: A staged re-enactment of Polish Lenten and Easter customs such as palm blessing, coloring pisanki, food blessing, the smigus-dyngus drenching custom, house-to-house Easter trick or treating, etc.
-- Easter games: In good weather a small hill can be used for an egg.-rolling contest -- the winner is the one whose egg travels the farthest. This can also be done indoors on an inclined surface (folding table, plank, etc.). Another is the egg-tap: contestants tap their eggs against one another, and the winner is the whose egg remains uncracked.
* Easter: Trendy or Traditional?
* 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