Easter baskets, as you can imagine, are a tradition I did not grow up with, nor did we share it with our daughter. I distinctly remember going across the street to the Robinson’s house in late December to enjoy candy canes from the Christmas tree when I was a kid. One year, I actually made my parents buy me a Hanukah bush. They chose a small evergreen, which we planted somewhere afterwards. I still have two wooden nesting eggs from my childhood; where they came from I have no recollection.
When I did the Easter Traditions documentary project for the Ethnographic Museum in Cleveland (see April 5 post), I was immersed immediately into the variety of ethnic Easter baskets. There were not the simply dyed eggs, much less the break-apart plastic eggs waiting to be filled with jelly beans or Dove chocolate eggs. Nor were these the jelly bean, Peeps, made more complete with a bunny.
The ethnic baskets were made with lovingly made food items filled with symbolism of the season. Often they were covered with beautifully embroidered clothes. They were objects of great pride. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, I’ve forgotten much of the symbolism. Let’s admire the baskets and their contents.
Three communities which I visited countless times during the project were St Vitus, Slovenian Catholic Church; St. Emeric’s Hungarian Catholic Church; and St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Yes, their baskets all had eggs – the Ukrainian eggs (pysanky) are amazing. The eggs shown here were made by Mrs. Jennie Bochar of Cleveland.
St. Vitus Slovenian Catholic Church. On Holy Saturday, many people made their way to the church to have their baskets of many sizes blessed.
Here’s what typically goes into the basket. This elderly Slovenian lady prepared hers for blessing in her home. Along with the baked goods, there were also dyed eggs; horseradish roots, symbolic of the nails used on the crucifix; sausages; and fresh fruit. Notice the cake baked in the shape of the lamb.
St. Emeric’s Hungarian Catholic Church. This quiet basket blessing was held in the church basement on Holy Saturday.
St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Church. The blessing of the Ukrainian Orthodox baskets drew crowds at least two times on Holy Saturday. The hall was filled with families and their amazingly beautiful baskets.
The Ethnographic Museum’s Easter project documented informal traditions associated with the celebration of Easter. There are very few images taken of the actual services on Easter Sunday. However, in some communities the activities continue on the next day, Easter Monday.
On Easter Monday at the Ukrainian church, girls in national dress gathered and danced.
Among the activities of the Hungarian Scouts is the annual water sprinkling. Young men sprinkle the girls with water (now using cologne) in exchange for a decorated egg. Remember, Easter is a spring holiday … remember, the time of fertility.
As I look back at work I did in the past, I am grateful for the people who opened their homes and the churches who opened their doors to me. I learned more than can be imagined. I cut my teeth and learned my craft during my three years at the Ethnographic Museum.
As our lives remain suspended in this most unusual of times, please celebrate your holidays in safety with thoughts of our families and friends.