What's in Our Pascha Basket?
- Some one ask that more posts be done concerning the celebrations of out
Faith. This one came in I thought to share as it is such a lovely post.
May your Lent be a blessing and may Pascha bring much joy as we each
celebrate with the piety our cultures have given us.
Theodora in The Mountains
What's in Our Pascha Basket?
Growing up, my family's traditions were a great hodge-podge of
Carpatho-Russian and Romanian, with quite a bit of Antiochian thrown in for
flavor (ahhh, spinach pies!). As a teen-age girl, one of the most vivid
things I remember is attending Great Friday services at St. Mark's, an
Antiochian parish where the women still wore mourning veils for Christ's
"burial", and the chants of the funeral dirges were so beautiful they
filled every waking moment for weeks afterward ("Every generation, to Thy
grave comes bringing, Sweet Christ, its dirge of praises!").
Great Friday was the most solemn time: my family fasted all that day (no
water, not even a tic-tac), and left the TV and radios off. Everything was
silent in recognition of His sacrifice for us; I don't even remember
complaining, because that would have made noise. And when services were
over late Friday night, we drove home, or more often through the hills of
central Pennsylvania to my Grandmother's.
In both places, we were greeted with the smell of baking bread, ham, and
kielbasi: preparations had begun for the Pascha basket my father (and
later, my boyfriend/fiancИ/husband Bill) would struggle to carry to and
from church for the Resurrection Liturgy and the food blessing that
When I was young, I never knew why we were eating these strange "basket
foods" after fasting for Lent. I didn't like ham; I wanted lasagna and
meatballs! I didn't want horseradish; I wanted Arby's! But as I grew older,
and wiser, and stayed up later (in the kitchen with Grandma, Mom & Auntie
Sue, talking late into the night), I learned how to prepare these foods,
and what they meant:
Pascha, a rich egg-based bread sweetened with raisins, represents the
"Bread of Life", Christ. My family always baked half a dozen paschas in
small coffee cans, so they were round when you sliced them. [My Grandma
always turned the pascha over before she cut it, and said, "In the name of
the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit," cutting off three small
pieces from the bottom as she did so. These pieces were put on the window
sill to dry out, then eaten throughout the year, like Holy Bread, when one
of us was sick.]
Christ's Biscuits, were small round rolls made from the same dough as the
pascha, brushed with egg as they were baking so the tops were shiny and
deep brown. They always had icing crosses on the top. Again, they symbolize
the Bread of Life.
Pysanki, decorated hard-boiled eggs, are a symbol of the Resurrection:
Jesus came out of the Tomb just as a chick comes out of an egg. My family
always had bright pink eggs dyed with onion skin (like the one Mary
supposedly offered to Pilate when she visited him after the Resurrection),
and eggs decorated with pussy-willows, crosses, swirls, and "Christ is
Risen! Christos Voskrese!" [As children, it was our job to prepare the eggs
using the pysak (a "quill pen" for applying melted wax to eggs) my
Grandfather had made before he died. My mother always removed the wax after
the eggs were dyed, because she never scorched them! Depending on how close
to "western Easter" it was, we would use an egg-dye kit for some of the
eggs, so our baskets sometimes included marbleized, glittered, or
Mickey-Mouse eggs as well. We never included the glossy black "Ukrainian"
eggs made with toxic dyes, even though we made them throughout the year for
show. Basket stuff was meant to be eaten!]
Kielbasi and Ham are in the Pascha basket to symbolize the sacrifices made
before Christ's perfect sacrifice; they are the basket's allusion to the
Old Testament. I've recently read that meat in the Pascha basket also
symbolizes the calf sacrificed when the Prodigal Son returned home; the
meat is a celebration of our return to Christ.
Horseradish and Spicy Mustard are included in the basket to remind us of
the bitter drink given to Christ at his crucifixion, vinegar and gall. [My
Grandma sometimes dyed the horseradish pink with beet juice, to symbolize
the Blood shed by Christ.]
Butter, usually whipped and flavored with almond, was included in the
basket to symbolize the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice made for the world.
[Some families used a lamb-shaped mold for their butter, which made the
symbolism even stronger. We leave ours in a block, but carve a cross into
Salt, which was traditionally used to preserve food, represents the Truth
of his eternal message. [When I married, my Grandmother gave me a special
crystal shaker for my basket salt as a gift; she has used her shaker for
over 70 years!]
Egg-cheese (actually called "rrrroot-KA", which might be spelled "hrutka")
was the adult's favorite basket food; it was a rich, sweet scrambled-egg
lump that they sliced, salted, and ate cold on pierces of pascha. [I have
never tried to make it myself, but have my Grandma's recipe.]
Sweets: Our family's Pascha basket never included chocolate or other
candies, but I plan to slip in a chocolate egg and marshmallow lamb for my
18-month-old daughter this year. The symbolism is there, and as long as she
grows up knowing the meaning of the foods in the basket, the sweets will
never be confused with the plastic Easter baskets filled with sugar and
stuffed rabbits sold at K-Mart.
The foods were prepared and loosely wrapped, then displayed in a sturdy
basket so everything could be touched by the Holy Water when blessed after
the Resurrection Liturgy. A decorated candle (and matches) were tucked into
the side of the basket, and it was covered by an ornate cloth. The full
basket was heavy, so we didn't worry about it tipping over in the car.
The candles used in my family's baskets came from many sources: the candles
used during Procession, made at Camp Nazareth, or purchased at the
monastery. After we married, Bill and I used the candles we held during our
wedding ceremony; this year, we'll use one of Katie's baptismal candles.
My family's collection of basket covers is vast: every woman has
contributed one or two beautifully-stitched linen pieces, some with
colorful bands and crosses, some with embroidered icons. A different one is
chosen every year. Many families used fine linen napkins (or the cloths
used to bind the hands of a wedding couple) as basket covers. [My own cover
is very plain, with a peti-point "southwest" border in teals and oranges.
My Mother's cover (with the Theotokos) was once used as an icon at Sts.
Peter and Paul's, when the old church burned down many years ago and the
church was rebuilt.]
My Grandmother was always very strict about basket food: it was never to be
shared with non-Christians, and never to be slipped under the table to the
cats or dogs (she saved a bit of ham, unblessed, for Spanky and Jackie).
The shells peeled from the hard-boiled eggs, the scraps of ham, and the
bread crumbs were carefully collected after each basket-food meal and
buried in the rose garden or burned. They were never thrown out with the
trash, because they were blessed.
If your family has never taken a Pascha basket to be blessed, our family's
Pascha basket traditions may give you some ideas for starting your own; if
your family regularly prepares a basket for the celebration of the
Resurrection, take some time to pass down meanings of the foods and their
preparation to your children. Everyone will enjoy being involved: baking,
by Nichola T. Krause
╘ 1996 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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