In many Eastern European countries, it is a tradition to have a basket of food blessed on Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday. In Poland, for example, the blessing of the baskets is known as blessing of the Easter food, a practice dating to the 15th century or earlier, and one which is still maintained by most families in Poland on Holy Saturday.
The food items in the Easter basket, as well as at the Easter Sunday breakfast where the blessed food is eaten, have special significance.
Decorating the Basket
A lot of thought, time and care is not only put into the foods that will go into the basket but also to how the basket is assembled. The basket is lined with an embroidered cloth or traditional folk fabric. Once the basket is filled, it is covered with a white linen cloth (some have a colorful crocheted edging or embroidered design) representing the shroud of Christ. The basket may then be decorated with sprigs of boxwood (bukszpan) or Polish "palms " made from dried flowers and colorful paper.
In rural Poland, the size and contents of a woman's basket (some used wooden bowls and even dresser drawers) was a matter of pride and standing in the community.
A typical Eastern European Easter basket would include any of these symbolic foods.
Although every family may have its own traditions when it comes to the Easter baskets, several believe it is imperative that every member of the family have a bite of all the blessed foods after Mass on Easter Sunday.
So many mothers make sure to include just enough for a taste of the Easter dinner foods, plus some daily staples. This means including not only the little bird's nest cake made with leftover batter from the lamb cake, but also hard-cooked eggs studded with cloves representing the nails of the cross, kiełbasa, ham, salt and pepper. Also, ćwikła or chrzan, a butter lamb, or butter stuffed into a shot glass studded with a clove, and a small, round bakery rye bread topped with a paper decal in the shape of a purple cross. In some families, greens, vegetables and fruit are never included (because there is no room!), but other families do make them a part of the basket.
In many families when the children are old enough, they are given the honor of taking the basket to church to be blessed.
There is no risk of the basket being picked over since it is a time of fasting, and the children are sure to be admonished that they do not touch one morsel of food. The aromas are sure to be intoxicating and it takes tremendous willpower not to sample.
Traditions include both feasting on the blessed foods separately on Easter morning as well as using the contents of the Easter food basket (święconka) to make a delicious soup known as white Borsch (barszcz).
Source: The Polish Falcons of America contributed to this list of symbolic foods.