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Traditional Slovak-Ukrainian-Russian Easter Basket for Blessing

Slovak-Ukrainian-Russian Easter Breakfast

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Blessing of the Easter Food Baskets on Holy Saturday or Easter morning is a tradition among Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian Eastern Europeans, including Czechs, Croatians, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Poles (who call it swiecenie pokarmow wielkanocnych), Russians, Rusyns, Slovaks, Slovenes and Ukrainians.

As to what goes into a food basket depends on the region one is from, the family's preferences and financial means. Years ago in rural villages, it was a mark of one's wealth if a groaning basket (sometimes even a dresser drawer containing whole hams and slabs of bacon!) of Easter delectables was presented to be blessed. But conspicuous displays are less common these days and just a sample of many foods with symbolic meaning now line the basket. Instead of ham, some Croatians and Slovenes place lamb in their baskets, and western Slovaks place a veal loaf, known variously as sekana, sekanice, polnina, in theirs. An interesting bread loaf with veal known as Velkonočna hlávka might also appear in some baskets. While, in wine-making regions like Hungary and others, bottles of superior vintage go into the basket, and yet others add green spring vegetables to theirs. Balkan countries like Serbia, Bosnia, Bulgaria and some others exchange eggs on Easter morning rather than have a basket of food blessed.

Since Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians fast during Lent, not one morsel of this blessed food is eaten until after Mass on Easter Sunday and, thus, becomes the traditional Easter breakfast. Here is what most Slovaks, Ukrainians and Russians put in their baskets. Many recipes are crosscultural since Slovak, Ukrainian, Carpatho-Rusyn and Russian cuisine has been influenced by neighboring Hungary, Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic. Here is more about how Easter is celebrated in each Eastern European country. For more on Slovak Easter, check out Lubos Brieda's Slovak Cooking.

1. Blessing of the Baskets on Holy Saturday or Easter Morning

Image of Easter Basket Symbolism
© Polish American Center, used with permission.
While tastes vary by region and family, the basket usually contains smoked meats, sausage, butter, cheese, bread, salt, cake and pysanky eggs. A candle is placed in the basket so it can be lit during the blessing. Some families tie a bow or ribbon around the handle of the basket. Finally, a richly embroidered cloth basket cover rests atop the food. Not one morsel of this food is eaten until after church services on Easter Sunday. As custom dictates, each member of the household must eat a sample of everything in the basket lest misfortune befalls them.

2. Butter

Butter is symbolic of the goodness of Christ, that we should emulate toward others. It can be shaped into a fancy lamb-shaped mold or simply packed into a glass container with cloves in the form of a cross studding the top.

Slovak -- maslo
Russian -- maslo
Ukrainian -- maslo

3. Bread

Ukrainian Easter Bread
© BlueFin on Flickr
The name paska came from the Jewish Passover feast known as pesach and from the Greek version of the word –- pascha. Paska is also the word for a round loaf of sweetened yeast bread / cake studded with orange and lemon peel and raisins. It is a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life. Paska bread usually features a dough braid around the perimeter, and a dough cross or other religious symbols on top. Sometimes a hole is left in the middle for a candle to be lighted at church during the blessing.

Slovak -- paska and kolac
Russian -- paska and kulich
Ukrainian -- paska

4. Horseradish

Horseradish and Horseradish with Beets
© Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
Horseradish, especially mixed with grated beets, is symbolic of the Christ's passion and blood he shed. The horseradish can be placed in a decorative bowl for inclusion in the basket.

Slovak -- chren
Russian -- khren
Ukrainian -- khrin

5. Hard-Cooked Eggs and Pysanky

Polish Pisanki by Theresa Child
© Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
Hard-cooked eggs, dyed red in the Orthodox Christian faith, and decorated elegantly using the wax-resist method are symbols of Easter, life, and prosperity, and Christ's Resurrection from the tomb. Check out this free online course in pysanky making from All Things Ukrainian.

Slovak -- kraslica
Russian -- pysanky
Ukrainian -- pysanky

6. Sausage

Sausage, either fresh or smoked and symbolic of God's favor and generosity, is always present in the basket.

Slovak -- klobása
Russian -- kolbasa
Ukrainian -- kovbasa

7. Ham or Lamb

Ham in Rye Crust
© Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
Ham is symbolic of great joy and abundance. Some prefer veal or lamb, which reminds Christians that the Risen Christ is the Lamb of God.

Slovak ham / lamb -- klobása / jahňacie
Russian ham / lamb -- vetchina / baranina
Ukrainian / lamb -- kovbasa / baranyna

8. Smoked Bacon

Bacon, with its great fattiness, is a symbol of the overabundance of God's mercy and generosity.

Slovak -- slanina
Russian -- bekon
Ukrainian -- bekon

9. Salt

Salt, a necessary element in physical life, is symbolic of prosperity and justice and to remind us that people are the flavor of the earth.

10. Cheese

Slovak Egg Cheese or Hrudka
© Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
Cheese is symbolic of the moderation Christians should have at all times. Usually fresh dry curd or farmers cheese (not aged) is placed in the basket, but another type of cheese -- hrudka, also known as hrutka, sirok, cirecz, might be included.

11. Candle

A candle, which will be lighted in church at the blessing, represents Christ as the Light of the World.

12. Easter Basket Cover

Orthodox Christian Easter Basket Cover
© Frank Toroney, used with permission.
Traditions vary from family to family about what goes into the basket that is to be blessed on Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, but what seems to remain constant are the colorful ribbons and greenery, pussy willows or dried flowers attached to the basket as signs of joy and new life in the season of spring and in celebration of the Resurrection. The other must is the richly embroidered basket cover, that symbolizes Christ's burial shroud, that goes over it. It's usually made of linen or other fine cloth that is embroidered with religious symbols related to the Resurrection and the celebration of Easter, and are passed down from generation to generation. A Ukrainian paska cover is similar to a rushnyk or embroidered towel except it has Easter symbols on it.

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