A Polish Easter in Philadelphia

Growing up in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia was a wonderful experience. Like many of the ethnic groups in our area, lives and customs were connected to our churches.

Being a member of the Polish church - Easter was a special time to our family. I can remember Babci making puncki (pounchki, Polish donuts) on Shrove Tuesday. The aroma that came from the kitchen was wonderful.

As awesome as they were, the feast was short lived for the next day was Ash Wednesday. The day began with attending Mass and receiving ashes on our forehead which we were not allowed to touch until bedtime. Those were strict Babci rules.

For six weeks we saw not fancy foods. We did a lot of praying and self denial of earthly goods. Attending church daily was a must.

On Holy Thursday we had to visit three churches in the area. We walked and prayed in silence and did not greet others along the way. Upon entering the church we fell to our knees to pray before the Monstrance which was on the altar and held the sacred host.

Good Friday was the most somber day of all. We were not allowed to put the radio or TV on. Silence and prayer were required. I remember going to church for the three hours devotion. As we entered the church we got on our knees and crawled on them up to a giant crucifix and the kissed the wounds on the figure of Christ. The sober service lasted for three hours with song and prayer.

Holy Saturday morning it was my job to go to church for Mass while Babci and Mom did all the cooking. I was to collect Holy Water in a small bottle they gave me, to bring home. This was going to be used by the priest when he came to bless the Easter food (swieconka) to be eaten the next day.

It was exciting to know that the priest was coming to your house. Babci put on a new white table cloth, as small dish containing the Holy Water. The food was beautifully arranged on the table. The smell was enough to make you want to sit down and start eating but we knew better than to even suggest it. We did not break fast until Easter morning after church. The table held the beautifully dyed eggs, the kielbasa, horseradish (freshly made by Babci, who shed many a tear in the process) ham, pierogi, kapusta and of course the lamb made out of butter with the red flag in it. The Babka with cheese would finish off the meal.

Early Easter morning while it was still dark out we woke up to get ready for church. Mom took the rags our of my hair which she used to make curls. My patent leather shoes had been preserved the night before by rubbing vaseline on them to keep then soft and not crack. Then it was time to put on my beautiful dress. The nuns purchased our dresses all the same style but in different colors. Each classroom had a different pastel color. As we processed into the church, we girls walked in front of the canopy carried by men. Under the canopy was Father (priest) dressed in gold lame and white robes. He carried the monstrance with the Holy Sacrament. We girls had baskets with rose petals which we sprinkled on the floor. It was
a beautiful sight and the church was overflowing with people.

After Mass it was time to go home and eat the foods that had been prepared. And what a feast it was and what a wonderful day.

Wesolego Allelluia !

written by Barbara Wells
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