Mainers with Polish roots prepare for Easter with the blessing of Easter baskets

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Reverend Seamus Griesbach begins the annual blessing of Easter baskets Saturday at St. Louis Catholic Church in Portland’s West End as longtime parishioner Kaz Zywina holds holy water while serving as sexton. Danforth Street Church was built by Polish immigrants in 1924 and is the only Polish Catholic church in Maine. Brianna Soukup/staff photographer

Heather Emery, who as a daughter came to the United States from Poland, was among many worshipers who brought an Easter basket full of food to St. Louis Catholic Church in Portland on Saturday.

His Easter dinner will indeed be blessed.

St. Louis, Maine’s only Polish church, held its annual tradition of “swiecenie pokarmow,” which in Polish means “Easter blessing,” when their baskets of Easter food and sweets were blessed by a priest.

After offering prayers, Reverend Seamus Griesbach sprinkled holy water on colorful baskets that filled several tables. About 200 people from St. Louis Parish attended, and many spoke Polish. Their baskets were decorated with flowers and ribbons, often covered with hand-embroidered linens. The tradition of blessing the Easter basket goes back centuries in Poland.

Emery, from Old Orchard Beach, explained that each food item in the baskets has a meaning. His included sweet bread called ‘babka’, horseradish, artfully painted eggs, kielbasa and salt.

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The bread symbolizes Jesus, the bread of life; horseradish is a reminder of the bitter passion of the Lord; the eggs indicate new life and the resurrection of Christ; kielbasa is a sign of generosity; the salt represents the sons and daughters of God and of the people like the salt of the Earth; and sweets and sweets are a reminder of having childlike faith and Jesus’ sweet love for people, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland’s webpage.

“It’s a tradition we keep,” Emery said, crying as he thought of his homeland.

Before the start of the pandemic two years ago, she paid a new visit to Poland. “My goal is to reconnect with my family members. When I was there I learned more about what happened during World War II and the devastation in Poland, how it was divided and how no one came to the rescue of Poland said Emery.

Today, Poland and its people welcome refugees from the war in Ukraine, “because they know what it is. They do,” Emery said. “I’m so proud.”

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Radek Przygodzki from Biddeford, also born in Poland, said as children they learned early on that blessing Easter baskets was an important tradition. In Poland, “Easter is a bigger holiday than Christmas,” he said.

Przygodzki, who also has family in Poland, said the millions of Ukrainian refugees are putting pressure on Polish cities, “but they have welcomed them in a spectacular way”. He added that “it is disturbing” to see how Russia brutalizes its neighbours.

Eva Idzikowska, center, during the annual Blessing of Easter Baskets or, Swieconka in Polish, at St. Louis Catholic Church in Portland’s West End on Saturday. The church was built by Polish immigrants in 1924 and is the only Polish Catholic church in Maine. Idzikowska started coming to church when she moved from Boston to Maine during the pandemic. Brianna Soukup/staff photographer

Waterboro parishioner Michal Slawiec was also born in Poland and came to the United States when he was 25. He met his wife, also of Polish descent, when they were at Southern Maine Community College.

For Poles, the blessing of baskets and the celebration of Easter are a beloved time, he said. His mother, brother, extended family and his wife’s parents still live in Poland.

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Slawiec also spoke of Poland’s warm welcome to Ukrainian refugees. “The Poles have just opened their arms, their homes,” he said. “There are no refugee camps like in other countries, because Poland doesn’t like the concept of refugee camps. We treat them like our neighbors.

Since the start of the Russian attacks, some Ukrainian refugees have left Poland and moved to other countries, he said. Yet Poland continues to be the hub of refugees.

Poland has always been a Catholic country, and it is ingrained in Poles to take care of others, Slawiec said. This is one of the reasons why they welcome entire families, strangers, into their homes. “They feed them. They support them,” he said.


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