Blessed baskets: Easter tradition in Valley endures despite pandemic

Msgr. William Connell, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Poland, uses incense to bless an Easter basket in the parking lot of the church Saturday afternoon. Approximately 50 vehicles showed up for the outdoor ceremony. The blessing of Easter baskets on Holy Saturday is an Eastern European tradition dating back to the 15th Century, according to the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops. Staff photo by Marly Kosinski

POLAND — There are some family traditions into which you are born and others you adopt through marriage.

Either way, people who came to Holy Family Parish on Saturday afternoon to have their Easter baskets blessed said they were not going to let the COVID-19 pandemic keep them from carrying on this tradition.

This year’s event was a little different, with the blessing taking place outdoors and pastor Msgr. William Connell and participants wearing masks and not interacting with one another. Baskets were placed on the hoods of the approximately 50 vehicles, and Connell used incense to bless them and a masked deacon followed to sprinkle the holy water.

The blessing of Easter baskets on Holy Saturday is an Eastern European tradition dating back to the 15th Century, according to the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops.

Among those at the outdoor blessing was Katy Swantek, who has belonged to St. Charles Parish in Boardman her whole life. She said she grew up in an Italian family, but adopted the Easter basket blessing custom after she and her husband, Joe, got married five years ago.

The couple’s 3-year-old son, Dominic, was there, as were her in-laws, Joanne and Joe. The younger Joe Swantek said the blessing has been a ritual in his family for generations, and he intends to keep it alive for his children.

Joanne Swantek said her grandmother, who now would be about 130 if she were alive, started the tradition, and she was glad her children have continued it.

“I am especially happy my daughter-in-law has embraced this custom,” she said, noting she and Katy made their own paska, or Easter bread, which was one of the items in the basket.

The family had two baskets blessed. Joanne said one was her grandma’s that has been passed down, and the other was her mother’s.

The Swanteks are Byzantine Catholic, and Katy said she grew up Roman Catholic but had never heard of the tradition. She said among the items in her basket were paska, ham, wine, cheese, horseradish, eggs, keilbasa and a dog bone for their four-legged family member.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, each item has a special significance. Pork symbolizes the abundance of God’s mercy; bread represents the risen Lord; butter, which is often shaped into a lamb, represents the richness of salvation; candles stand for Jesus as the light of the world; eggs represent new life; horseradish represents the bitterness of Jesus’ passion; salt adds zest to life; and sweets such as candy or cake represent the good things to come.

The USCCB website also states the cloth inside the basket and ribbon on the outside, as well as the basket itself, are usually passed down through the generations.

Jeanette Tamulonis and her daughter, Erin, both lifetime members of St. Dominic Parish, brought their basket to be blessed.

“My grandma would take a basket to SS. Cyril and Methodius in Youngstown every year. I wanted to pass that tradition on,” Jeanette said.

Jeanette said this year’s blessing took on extra special meaning because it is the family’s first Easter without her mom, Mary Borosko, who died in February. The basket she had blessed has been used for the past 20 years.

“We replace the ribbon every few years, though,” she said.

Also among those in attendance were Alberta Popovec and her husband, Dr. John Popovec, who belong to St. Christine Church in Youngstown and St. Lucy Church in Campbell. Their daughter, Stephanie Schiavone, a member of Holy Family, also was there with her children, Arianna, 11, Francesca, 8, and Giovanna, 14.

“I just wanted to provide my family with some normalcy on this sacred holiday,” Schiavone said. “I have been doing this my whole life, and it wouldn’t have been Easter without it.”



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