In ancient times, the faithful fasted from meat and dairy products during the entire season of the Great Fast, beginning with Cheesefare Sunday. As the end of the fast approached, the people took their food to church to be blessed and eaten after Easter Liturgy. Traditions varied from village to village and from country to country. In many locales, in particular, the poor farm lands of Eastern Europe, Christians prepared Easter baskets using whatever foods were available to them.
Foods blessed for Easter fall into three main categories: Breads, representing the True Bread Jesus Christ; Meats, symbolizing the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament and foreshadowing the sacrifice of our Savior, the “Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world”, and Dairy Products, reminding us of the peace and prosperity of the Messianic times that had been foretold by the Prophets.
Easter foods are generally prepared the day before Easter and carefully placed in a wicker Easter basket, one set aside exclusively for that purpose. A ribbon or bow is sometimes tied to the handle. If the people are from a wine growing area, a sweet wine might also be placed in the basket. Along with the foods, a small container of salt is usually placed inside, along with a blessed candle, which is lighted during the blessing ceremony. On top is placed a basket cover of linen cloth, often embroidered with the picture of the Resurrected Christ and the words “Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!” (“Christos Voskres! Voistinnu Voskres!”)
Pascha – Easter Bread. A round, sweet, yeast flour bread enriched with eggs, raisins, and milk. On top it is decorated with a crown and cross of various designs and sometimes the letters XB indicating the Slavonic for Christ is Risen. The bread symbolizes our Lord Jesus Christ, the ‘Living Bread’.
Hrutka – Easter Cheese. Cheese shaped into a ball with a bland taste indicative of the moderation that Christians should have in all things.
Pisanki (Easter Eggs). Indicative of new life and resurrection. At Easter our Savior came forth from the tomb “as the chick after breaking the shell at birth.”
The red painted egg is the symbol of our salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. Because of the special meaning of the Resurrection, eggs are brightly decorated, and because of the patient work involved, are prepared days or weeks before Easter.
Sunka (Easter Ham). Symbolic of the great joy and abundance of Easter. Lamb or veal might also be available (symbolizing the fattened calf prepared for the Prodigal Son).
Slanina (Bacon). A piece of uncooked bacon cured with spices, symbolizes the overabundance of God’s mercy to us.
Kolbassi (Easter sausage). Indicative of God’s favor and generosity.
Chrin (Beets and Horseradish). Symbolic of the Passion of Christ still in our mind but sweetened because of the Resurrection. A bitter-sweet red colored mixture reminds us of the sufferings of Christ.
Maslo (Butter). Shaped into a figure of a Lamb or small cross and decorated. This reminds us of the goodness of Christ that we should also have toward all things.
Salt. Reminds the Christian of his duty to others.