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The art of Easter eggs

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published February 10, 2015


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 and share their culture, food, folklore and customs.

The West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society invites people who wish to know the customs and traditions of Easter to attend the Easter Basket Social and Luncheon at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy March 7.  According to its website, 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 their 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,” said Lori Golmulka, vice president and director of the society. 

“I’m involved because a lot of history of the west side (Detroit) Polish community is disappearing from the landscape,” said Rev. Walter Ptak, a Roman Catholic priest who is the director of the West Side Detroit Polish American Historical Society and president of the National Polish American Priests Association.

He teaches classes and serves as a dean at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake.

“I’m from Wyandotte,” he said. “I’m a west-sider. I’m happy to serve and help document, enrich and preserve Polish culture in the U.S.”

He described the blessing of the food on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, as a “beautiful custom to usher in a period of joy and celebration.” Traditionally, 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.

There are seven must-have items in the baskets. Bread, an essential food in all cultures, symbolizes the body of Christ. Eggs symbolize rebirth. Salt was believed in old times to ward off evil. Hams and sausages symbolize sources of health and fertility. Cheese is a symbol of friendship between man and the forces of nature that guaranteed the increase of the herd of domestic animals. Horseradish is a symbol of strength and physical prowess. Cake is a symbol of the skill and perfection that allowed women to show off their baking skills, according to Alina Klin, professor of Slavic studies in the Department of Modern Languages and Culture at Wayne State University.

Fare at the event will include a traditional Polish luncheon — pierogi (dumplings), kielbasa, kapusta (made with cabbage), babka (cake) and a variety of Easter teas.

Eggs as art

Polish folklorist Marcia Lewandowski will demonstrate the ancient art of pisanki, or Easter egg coloring, at a workshop at the event.

“It’s part of who I am,” she said of her craft. “It’s part of my heritage. I learned a little from my mom, but I’m mostly self-taught. My mom always encouraged me.” 

Lewandowski will explain 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.

“In the traditional method, the inside of the egg is left inside,” she said. “Also, according to the old myth, the life force is in the egg. It would not have the same mysticism about it.” She said the inside of the eggs dry out after a number of years, and she acknowledged that it’s not always practical to leave the egg raw.”

She blows the inside out by making small openings in the shell with an old-fashioned hatpin to break through the membrane. She blows with her mouth so that the inside of the egg comes out into a bowl. She noted that people can also buy an egg blower at local craft stores. The eggshells are rinsed with vinegar and water to remove oils from the skin that will keep the wax from sticking onto the shell.

Lewandowski uses hard-boiled eggs in the workshop for practice.

This is the fourth year she has done the workshop at the event.

“I get a lot of repeaters,” she said. “They really enjoy it.” 

The Polish Easter Basket Social and Luncheon will be held noon-3 p.m. March 7 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. 28. Send checks to Laurie Gomulka 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 downloaded from the group’s website, www.detroitpolonia. org. For information about joining the group, call (855) 765-