Blessings are everywhere if we just look for them. I suppose that’s called an optimistic outlook in secular terms. Perhaps hope? (The odd thing about hope: you have to have hope in something. There has to be a basis for that hope. Either you have hope in a deity, or hope in the goodness of humanity, or hope something else.)
Today is a day of blessings, from a kind mother who does something as simple as trying new, time-consuming ways of putting patterns in colored eggs to bring a little different shade of joy to the Easter table.
Or a priest sprinkling holy water over baskets of food to be consumed as part of the Easter celebration.
Or people who embrace the traditions of the Old World and pass them on to their children.
Or family and friends who are with you at all the major markers of one’s life.
Or children laughing and screaming in delight.
Or the pride of accomplishment. Or electricity.
Or new-found courage and independence.
Or a friend to hold you when you’re hurt.
With guests arriving for the whole Easter weekend, there’s only one thing to do: get a blood sugar baseline for the weekend.
In a sense, like most Polish religious celebrations, food plays an important part, but like most Polish religious celebrations, it begins with a fast.
So my experiment — stuffing tenderloin with pepper-encrusted bacon, prunes, and green onions before smoking — will remain untasted until later in the weekend.
Such a temptation.
But there are other temptations.
More appropriate temptations.
The preparations for a Polish Easter are impressive: hours of cooking, something like 300,000 square inches of cleaning (floors, walls, doors, cabinets, etc.), dozens of eggs for painting, hundreds of baskets for blessing.
There are some greater pleasures among all these, though. And even in the drudgery, one can find some kind of meaning.
Though my mother would faint to read it, there is something inherently satisfying about cleaning. Though it’s only a temporary effect — for dirt holds sway in our world — it’s somehow an apt metaphor of life, taming the chaos and finding beauty under ugliness.
It’s not as difficult to find meaning in cooking as in cleaning, nor is it as difficult to find pleasure. As Cooking is tiring but rewarding. As Tiana’s father in The Princess and the Frog says,
You know the thing about good food? It brings folks together from all walks of life. It warms them right up and it puts little smiles on their faces.
Cooking is inherently a social activity because food is social.
And of course it’s a pleasure to paint eggs; it’s even more a pleasure to watch your daughter paint.
The yearly painting serves as a metric of development: the designs become more intricate and more precise. With her artistic tendencies, she’ll soon be creating eggs that put mine to shame.
The blessing, too, is a blessing. It’s an imported tradition, with the parish priest, Father Theo — himself a transplant from Columbia — pressed into service several years ago, not knowing the tradition. Each year, Fr. Theo has become more involved, more enthusiastic.
The first year, he breezed in, not knowing the significance of the tradition, and offered a quick blessing for the handful of Poles who were there. This year, there were songs, prayers, and even jokes — Fr. Theo can’t go for awfully long without smiling.
The guests have left. The Girl has fallen asleep behind me.
Certainly it’s exhaustion from yesterday’s activities: with two girls her age arriving in the early afternoon, the Girl was a bundle of hyperactivity.
“We’re going to run there and here and there and here!” L proclaimed just before the girl’s arrival.
After eating an enormous lunch, that’s just what they did as they searched for eggs.
The younger girls were overwhelmed with excitement each and every time they found an egg. Their joy was a lovely thing, but it meant that the older children had more time to find eggs: they were very utilitarian in their celebrations, whooping on their way to the next egg instead of stopping to show off their discoveries.
Slow and steady might win the race in parables, but in the cut-throat reality of an Easter egg hunt, slow and steady wins only a light basket.
Often, though, the younger girls trailed behind the older children, following in almost lock-step.
“Honey, why don’t you look in different places rather than following her?” I asked L. “You’re just going to find the places where she’s already found the eggs.”
She thought about if for a moment, then continued with her method.
Still, despite the age difference, the little ones found several eggs, often simultaneously.;j
But the prize, the big egg, the egg L had been excited about all weekend, the egg that L proclaimed she simply must have — well, too much celebration for life’s little successes can give time for others to search out the big surprises.
And as I anticipated, it left poor L devastated. She stopped her own search and sat down for some sad alone time (also known as pouting).
But all was soon well. L’s disappointments rarely last longer than a few minutes, especially when the “offending” party shows some sympathy.
Unless I am the offending party — then the grudge lasts a few minutes longer.
Holy Saturday in Polish is “Wielka Sobota”, which translates to “Great Saturday” (though not “great” as a synonym for “fantastic”). It’s the final day of preparation for Wielkanoc, which translates to “Great Night.” But nestled in the hustle and chaos of cooking, cleaning, ironing, and fretting is a great (in this case, synonymous with “fantastic”) tradition: the blessing of the Easter baskets.
Dressed in the traditional outfits of Podhale and armed with two baskets overflowing with food for Easter breakfast, we headed to the church early in order to get our obligatory Easter family portrait.
When we entered the church, the Girl was fascinated: so many baskets, so many colored eggs — which to choose? Only a quick eye and a quicker hand kept the Girl from pillaging and plundering.
The baskets tell another story, though. The church wasn’t filled, but there were enough pockets of English conversation in the generally Polish-expat crowd that it became obvious that others see the value and beauty of this tradition.
The priest, Father Theo, certainly likes the tradition. He positively beamed as he spoke, and the joy of his kind embrace of the tradition was infectious.
So contagious was his joy that he managed to talk a young lady into coming up to read the passage about the Passover tradition. No practice, no warning, just a kind smile and a complement about her dress.
Another kind word and all the kids in traditional costumes joined Father Theo.
After the blessing, it was a free-for-all,
on both sides of the lenses. As I was taking a picture, I felt the crowd gathering about me. I realized the real picture was about ten steps behind me.
Shortly thereafter, the shot was about twenty steps in front of me.
And when you’re carrying around a large DSLR, everyone asks you for a picture.
Then again, Father Theo has good reason: his camera is a Canon that lacks a screen on the back and, rumor has it, records the pictures on a thin plastic film. I don’t believe it myself, but I can attest to the camera’s lack of a LCD screen. How in the world does he preview his pictures?
How does he know, for example, that some outside shots need a little over-exposure?
How would he’d managed to slide his hand back into his pocket, concealing the remote shutter release?
Or know that he’d captured the petals of spring blossoms falling snow?
Or be sure that he’s caught the conference of Polish women?
“Nonsense!” the Girl would declare. “All that matters is the tree I see the boys climbing and my first chance to try it for myself.” With a nervous father always close at hand.
In the end, the best that could be said about such a busy day can’t be said with words.
Happy Almost-Easter to all.
Polish Good Friday is a day of baking and cooking, of arranging, cleaning, and preparing.
Theoretically, the house should be turned upside down, shaken well, then scrubbed top to bottom. It’s sort of like Christmas cleaning. Since I can’t bake (or at the very lease, K wouldn’t let me try on Easter), the cleaning was my responsibility.
And I certainly didn’t mind. Just look at the kitchen list for yesterday:
- four babkas,
- a regular cake,
- two salads, and
- cauliflower soup.
There were also flowers to arrange.
And on to tomorrow: basket blessing, more cleaning more cooking — seems we need a holiday.
It’s an annual event at our house: the Easter egg painting party. We’ve had some large crowds for it in past years, but this year, it was a family affair.
The Girl loves painting, so we weren’t surprised when she ended up working on eggs for well over an hour. She approached the task with a Jackson Pollock eye: layers and seeming chaos were the themes of her eggs.
As was “getting paint all over oneself.” But what’s the fun of painting if you don’t expand the canvas?
K took a more disciplined approach.
Yesterday was Easter: it was time for a party. What’s a better way to celebrate anything than to be with family and friends?
Naturally, there’s a lot of preparation before hand. My job (other than smoking the tenderloin): deviled eggs. I’ll admit: it was the first time I’d made them, and I was an utter disaster when it came to peeling eggs.
Still, they turned out well.
K made at least a million sauces to go with the multitude of different eggs, meats, and veggies.
First to arrive were Nana and Papa — always a good and helpful thing. It keeps L busy and out from under foot.
By the time all the guests arrived, there was a tremendous amount of food. After every such party, I reaffirm my conviction that there should be a simple rule with parties: when you leave, take with you what remains of what you brought.
It wasn’t as if there weren’t enough people to eat it all. Guests in the kitchen;
guests out on the deck.
After all the food and libation, it’s a shame we all have to go to work tomorrow: things were cut entirely too short.
For a few years now, we’ve been having people over one evening as Easter appears to have an Easter egg painting party. We were squeezed for time this year; we weren’t sure whether or not we’d get everything together.
Then friends saved the day by beating us to the punch. The only thing we had to do: bring eggs.
As might be expected, L greatly enjoyed preparing the egg dye. It was, in fact, the first time we used store-bought dye. K usually boils the eggs with onions skins, turning the eggs a rich reddish-brown.
This was the first year L was old enough to paint, and she took to it like a natural. She was unfazed when her egg tumbled form the high kitchen counter where everyone was working. Once she had it back in her hands, she continued as if nothing happened.
It was the first year I didn’t paint an egg, though. Not the first time in my life, for I grew up not celebrating Easter.
When I got back home, I saw a message on a social networking site from a friend who was “spring cleaning/deleavening today!” Someone else who doesn’t celebrate Easter but instead, the Jewish Old Testament festivals.
Deleavening — cleaning the house to get literally every single crumb from the house, for leaven is a symbol of sin — seems much less enjoyable than what we were doing. I haven’t been involved in deleavening in many, many years now, and I must say: Easter egg painting is a much more rewarding spring tradition.
And you can’t exactly invite your friends over for an afternoon of deleavening.
Well, you could, but first you’d have to explain what it is. It can be, in its own way, a very spiritual activity:
I always pray for deleavening/unleavening because there are no voids in the universe. There is no “empty.” If something is taken away, it is replaced with something else (e.g., when water is removed from a glass, it is replaced with air).
Deleavening requires God’s help. Just as my house can’t deleaven itself (I have to do it), I can’t deleaven myself (God has to do it). I, though, choose to cooperate or resist and I am responsible for the choices I make. As I’m deleavened, those empty places need to be filled with unleavenedness, and God also has to do to do that (just as I make or buy unleavened bread and bring it into my house each year – I do wish sometimes it would materialize all by itself since my personality doesn’t lend itself to enjoying the precise formulation of baking). Again, I choose to cooperate or resist the unleavening part of the process. (All the Strange Hours)
One cannot wax theological about Easter egg painting.
Well, an egg is a symbol of life, but beyond that?
Really, it’s not important. There doesn’t have to be theological meaning behind everything in life. Sometimes, it’s just about the painting.
Oh, that Pa-Paw is sly. A planned Easter visit across the mountain can be turned around (Let someone else do the driving for once!) by simply throwing one’s back out. Then the parents can bring the granddaughter to the grandparents!
I’ll have to remember that.
Of course, the one who spent the most time with the girl was the old man…
If it weren’t for the fact that Nana is so sensible, that girl would be so spoiled that she’d stink worst than durian.
Growing up not celebrating Easter, I never got to paint eggs as a kid. I’m making up for it now, for K and I seem to have established an annual Easter Egg Painting party.
The adults usually have as much fun as — if not more fun than — the kids.
Last Sunday, through the afternoon and evening, friends and family filtered through and painted eggs, ate some traditional Polish seasonal Easter food, and generally relaxed and chatted.
The grandparents, of course, were the first to arrive.