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February 6, 2013

Luncheon explains Polish traditions surrounding Easter

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

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This Polish Easter basket contains items that are blessed and symbolize various aspects of the Christian Easter celebration.

Although Easter remains weeks away, the holiday that Christians celebrate as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and new life emerging at spring inspires Polish Americans to create the ancient art of pisanki (or pysanki) and to share their culture, food, folklore and customs surrounding the holiday.

The West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society invites all those who wish to know Polish customs and traditions of Easter to attend the Easter Basket Social and Luncheon at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy Feb. 23. The West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in February of 2006.  It exists for the observation, study, appreciation and preservation of the history of west side Detroit Polonia’s neighborhoods and the Polish-American immigrants who settled and who continued to build the community throughout the decades. This includes their descendants and neighbors, surrounding institutions, businesses and churches.  The society also serves as a repository of historical archives, including artifacts, documents, oral histories and other significant records relevant to its mission and purposes.

Fare at the event will include a traditional Polish luncheon — pierogi, kielbasa, kapusta, babka and a variety of Easter teas.

Polish folklorist Marcia Lew-andowski will demonstrate the ancient art of pisanki, or Easter egg coloring, spelled pysanki in Ukrainian.

Lewandowski said she explains the techniques of the peasant art form, which involve putting wax on eggs, then applying dyes to create designs. Historically, the designs depicted flowers, scenes from nature and abstract designs on raw eggs, since the egg white helped the dye adhere to the eggshell, Lewandowski said. “Also, in ancient times, all the power of new life was thought to be inside the eggs.” She noted that, these days, the inside of the egg is often blown out to make the eggs easier to transport. 

“Eggshells have been decorated throughout Europe for thousands of years,” she said. “Designs varied from region to region.”

Self-taught, Lewandowski has created pisanki art for more than 50 years and taught many pisanki workshops throughout metro Detroit.

“It’s part of who I am,” she said. “It’s not a hobby. I’m very involved in my ethnic heritage.” She has studied dance in Poland and helped to found the Wawel Folk Ensemble, a Polish dance troupe for adults.

Lewandowski said the workshop at the luncheon will involve a step-by-step instruction process that will allow first-timers to create a decorated egg to take home. Alina Klin, who teaches Slavic culture at Wayne State University, will bring authentic tools for participants to use to create the designs.

There will be a display of decorated eggs by local artists at the event.

Rev. Larry Zurawski, a member of the society and pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township, will explain the tradition of Polish Easter baskets, which are not the baskets filled with candy.

Zurawski explained that families brought baskets filled with meat, eggs, butter, sweets, bread, wine and horseradish to the church on Holy Saturday, immediately before Easter Sunday, to be blessed before the food was eaten on Easter Sunday.

Each food item in the basket has significance.

“Links of sausage represent the chains of death broken by Jesus when he rose from the dead,” Zurawski said. “Bread, a staple of life, recognizes that Jesus broke bread at the Last Supper, brings us the bread of life and prepares us for the eternal banquet of heaven.

“Sweet things remind us of the gift of everlasting life and wine of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana, and when Jesus died on the cross and his blood and water flowed.

“Horseradish is an herb in the Old Testament eaten at Passover and represents to Christians the bitterness of the Passion and death of Christ,” he said.

“Blessing of the food started out as a Polish custom. Now a lot of churches are doing it,” Zurawski said. “It seems more and more come every year,” he said.

The Polish Easter Basket Social and Luncheon will be held noon-3 p.m. Feb. 23 at the American Polish Cultural Center, 2975 E. Maple. The cost is $30 for adults and $15 for children 12 and younger. Reservations and payment in advance are required before Feb. 16. Send checks to Laurie Gomulka, vice president of the West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society, at 32040 Grand River, Unit 47, Farmington, MI 48336. Include the number of adults and children who will participate in the pisanki workshop. No tickets will be mailed; the check/money order is the receipt. Forms may be downloaded from the group’s website, www.detroitpolonia.org. For information about joining the group, call (855) 765-6642.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.