On Holy Saturday a number of our parishes played host to Polish families in their communities for the annual blessing of food (Święconka). Święconka, meaning “the blessing of the Easter baskets,” is one of the most enduring and beloved Polish traditions on Holy Saturday. With roots dating back to the early history of Poland, it is also observed by expatriate and their descendants in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and other Polish Parish communities.
One parish to host Święconka was St Patrick’s in Newport. Holy Saturday morning saw St. Patricks Church in Cromwell Road filled with Polish families arriving with their Easter Baskets full of beautifully presented food. St. Patricks church is unique as the only Catholic parish in Newport that observes this tradition.
It began some five years ago with a few people who arrived with their baskets, much to the surprise of the Parish Priest Father Brian Cuddihy, who then of course, blessed the food. Over the last few years it has grown into a beautiful service in which the whole Polish community participates.
Father Cuddihy began by welcoming the large congregation in Polish. After prayers the many baskets of food, which had been laid along the altar rail, were blessed with Holy Water. Święconka is certainly a very joyous occasion, and those non Polish parishioners who attended felt very privileged to witness the event.
The tradition of food blessing dates from the 12th century, though a much earlier date can be attributed in its basic form, the more modern form containing bread and eggs (symbols of resurrection and Christ).
Baskets containing a sampling of Easter foods are brought to church to be blessed on Holy Saturday. The basket is traditionally lined with a white linen or lace napkin and decorated with sprigs of boxwood (bukszpan), the typical Easter evergreen. The Polish take special pride in preparing a decorative and tasteful basket with crisp linens, occasionally embroidered for the occasion, and boxwood and ribbon woven through the handle. Observing the creativity of other parishioners is one of the special joys of the event.
The foods in the baskets have a symbolic meaning:
- eggs – symbolise life and Christ’s resurrection
- bread – symbolic of Jesus
- lamb – represents Christ
- salt – represents purification
- horseradish – symbolic of the bitter sacrifice of Christ
- ham – symbolic of great joy and abundance.
The food blessed in the church remains untouched, according to local traditions, until either Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning.
The Clergy and Parishioners of St. Patricks Church would like to wish the Polish Community of Newport a very Happy and Blessed Easter.