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Blessed Easter baskets overflow in tradition in the Valley

Staff photos / Marly Reichert Juliann and Frank McLennan of Youngstown, parishioners of St. Columba Cathedral in Youngstown, talk about the items in their basket, which they brought to be blessed Saturday at the church. Juliann said she is continuing the tradition taught to her by her maternal grandmother. ..Staff photo / Marly Reichert

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s all about tradition.

That is what the approximately 15 people who showed up Saturday afternoon at St. Columba Cathedral said about bringing their Easter food baskets to be blessed.

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.

Juliann McLennan of Youngtown, a parishioner of St. Columba, said she remembers going with her mother as a young girl to have their baskets blessed at St. Matthias Church on the South Side, which was traditionally a Slovak parish. Her husband, Frank, who is Welsh and Scottish, happily adopted the tradition when they got married, she said.

Another person who was married into the tradition is Tess Szenborn of Campbell, who brought two baskets to be blessed. She is of Italian and Croatian descent, but her husband, Richard, is “100 percent Polish.”

One of her baskets was covered with a linen cloth that belonged to her husband’s paternal grandmother and the other was covered with a cloth that belonged to his maternal grandmother.

“My mother-in-law introduced me to this tradition when I was 21. We have been married for 54 years and I haven’t missed a basket blessing yet,” Szenborn said.

She and her husband were former members of St. Joseph the Provider Church in Campbell, a traditionally Polish parish, until it closed last year.

Daniella Klucar Csernik, who was born and raised in the Slovak Republic, has lived in the United States since 2000. She said she has been getting her Easter baskets blessed since she was 2.

She said a big difference between the tradition here and in Europe is that here, people can put whatever they want in their basket, but there, the baskets contain very specific items that each have a significant meaning.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, each item has a special significance. Pork, usually in the form of ham or kielbasa, symbolizes the abundance of God’s mercy; Easter bread, a round or long loaf topped with a cross or fish, is symbolic of Jesus, who is the bread of life; butter, which is often shaped into a lamb, represents the richness of salvation; candles, which are lit for the blessing, stand for Jesus as the light of the world; eggs represent new life and resurrection; salt, a necessary element in our physical life, is symbolic of prosperity and justice, reminding us that we are called to be “the salt of the earth;” the mild cheese traditionally included in Polish baskets, called Ser, symbolized the moderation Christians are to have at all times; and wine represents the blood of Jesus.

Csernik, a parishioner of St. Matthias, was at the blessing with her son, Dan, 17, who is a junior at Boardman High School.

Mary Ann Baluck, who is of Polish, Czech and Ukrainian descent, said she was raised with the tradition, which she is passing on to her daughter, Paulina, 25, who accompanied her on Saturday.

However, one does not have to be of Polish or Eastern or Central European ancestry to enjoy the Easter tradition.

“Whatever your family traditionally eats on Easter Sunday as a sign of celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, whether it is lasagna and bracioli, pork and arroz con gandules, or steak and potatoes, put together a basket representative of those foods and begin a new Easter tradition,” an item in the St. Columba church bulletin stated as an invitation for people of all backgrounds to attend.

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

mreichert@tribtoday.com

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