Polish food and colored eggs fill a basket to be blessed at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church in Cave Creek, Ariz., April 4, 2015. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Comment: Easter traditions are filled with blessings

  • April 13, 2017

There is a new Easter tradition in the United Kingdom: going to the local historical house to hunt for chocolate eggs.

The practise is not without controversy. This year the National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland — one of the largest national preservers of historical houses — was dragged into the headlines for omitting the word “Easter” from the title of this year’s event. “The Easter Egg Trail” is now “Cadbury’s Great British Egg Hunt.”

Theresa May, the prime minister, was asked what she thought of this betrayal of Britain’s Christian heritage. She thought it was ridiculous. “I don’t know what they are thinking about, frankly,” she said. “Easter’s very important…. It’s a very important festival for the Christian faith for millions across the world.”

The poor NT wailed that it mentioned Easter 13,000 times on its website and pointed to its egg hunt sponsor, Cadbury. Cadbury observed that it cites Easter in its ads and on its packaging. The British Humanist Society found it all very funny and called the scandal “a tempest in an egg cup.” Meanwhile, the National Trust for Scotland (independent from the NT) is hosting a “Cadbury Egg Hunt.” Thus the equally controversial (in Scotland) word “British” has also been avoided.

We live in the attic of a NTS property — a Palladian villa built in 1686 — and we can attest that Easter weekend is the busiest of the season, thanks to the egg hunt. My husband Mark almost always has to work right through Holy Week, missing all the liturgies he loves so much, save the Easter vigil. However, it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and his recent illness has him on the sick list until Easter Wednesday. This means that, for the first time in a decade, he will be free to go to church for the entire Triduum.

This will be a very happy Easter for us then, also considering Mark’s survival from his Lenten brain surgery. Our attic has begun to fill with guests, too. One lady of the house, a thoughtful employer, remodelled the once empty space into servants’ quarters in 1820; she spent a lot of money and observed that the results were “fit for anyone.” I am grateful to Miss Dalrymple (1765-1839) for all the little rooms in which I can lodge visiting family and friends. The first guests to arrive were a young married couple from Poland.

Ola, whose memories of her Scottish student days are full of rain, was curious about how our property manages its Easter egg hunt. She imagined hundreds of Scottish children crawling about in the damp undergrowth searching for soggy chocolate.

Mark explained that the children really look for clues which send them around the estate and at the very end they are handed their Easter baskets in the dry and comfortable stable block. Ola was relieved, but I have to say that our Easters are not necessarily as wet as all that. Edinburgh is one of Scotland’s sunnier cities.

The Scottish Reformation did away with Easter; for centuries Presbyterians recognized the holiday only as another Sunday. Thus, Scotland doesn’t have many Easter traditions of its own and, when pressed, Mark could only cite “leg of lamb” as a traditional Easter food. Fortunately for tradition-loving me, the presence of Polish guests gives me an excuse to whip up a traditional Polish Easter breakfast — and to take a basket of the ingredients to the Catholic cathedral to be blessed by a Polish priest in the Holy Saturday święconka ceremony.

So popular is this service that although there are only two Polish Sunday Masses at the cathedral, there are three Holy Saturday Polish basket blessings. My comprehension of the prayers is still hazy, but I enjoy seeing the cathedral packed with families and their baskets, the children almost rigid with excitement. Occasionally a tot loses all self-control and stuffs a cake from the basket straight into his mouth.

My basket will feature white kielbasa for the Polish Easter Sunday soup called żurek, hard-boiled eggs dyed with onion skins and beetroot juice, cheese, ham, braided bread, a lamb-shaped cake called a baranek, miniature bundt cakes called babki, and the jams for this year’s challenge: the mazurek krolewski. A “royal mazurka” is a cross between a pie and a cookie. It is basically a flat piece of baked pastry with different jams — resembling jewels — filling its lattice.

Easter Sunday dinner, however, will be decidedly Scottish as I have ordered a bona fide leg of Scottish lamb from the local butcher. I will serve it with peas and mint sauce, of course, and follow it up with an enormous sherry-laced, whipped-cream-covered trifle.

(Cummings McLean is a Canadian writer and author of Ceremony of Innocence.)

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