Saturday, March 11, 2006

Is Everyone Ready to Pysanky?

That really doesn't make sense, but it had such a fun ring to it, I couldn't resist. (No, no, no, these are NOT my pysanky, most definitely not--another stock photo. In fact, all of these are stock, eeeeek.)

As you've read in previous posts, I am married to a Ukie--that being one of Ukrainian descent. After falling in love with the hub and his family, I additionally fell in love with the Ukrainian traditions. So much so that before we were even hitched, I took a quick one-day pysanka (Ukrainian Easter egg) class at the Ukrainian National Shrine in DC. The Shrine was fairly new then and only had one small main building. Not even the bell tower had been built way back then. I was used to being shuffled into basements by Ukrainians because I had already spent an Easter with the in-law-family-to-be.

The father (the hub's dad, that is) was raised in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He was brought up attending both English and Ukrainian school at St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on 7th Street. It has, therefore, been tradition throughout his years to have all the Easter food blessed at St. George's the Saturday before Easter.

The mother (the hub's mom--who happens to be Italian) would make baskets for all the family members and put inside each one a home-made paska (Easter bread), a couple krashanky (hard boiled eggs boiled in onion skins for color--almost a brick red), some freshly-grated horseradish (signifying the bitterness of sin and hardship),
a jar of horseradish sweetened with red beets (representing the bitterness of the Passion of Christ), some salt (a reflection that we are the salt of the earth), some butter and farmer's cheese (special gifts from God), a piece of sausage (the links of the chains of death which were broken when Christ rose from the dead) and some pysanky (the decorated eggs signifying growth and rebirth). (By the way, we all do our own baskets these days.) All the contents in these baskets were then covered with a beautiful embroidered cloth (the Ukies are quite unique embroiders too) and carried to the church. (Another stock photo. Sorry it's so blurry. I don't feel like rummaging through my photos at midnight in search of a better one. I promise to do better later, really.)

You can imagine the smells that hit you when you walk down the stairwell and enter the basement of the church. As soon as you walk in, the smells almost knock you down (you've been fasting since late Thursday night!). It's the beautiful baskets that bring you around again. There are generations upon generations of Ukrainians and Ukrainian Americans lined up along a table that must be at least 25 feet long, each proudly displaying their basket(s) for all to see. I can never help but to walk around and admire everyone's goodies. Some women show off their fancy paska that have braids baked around the top while many others have little doves stuck in the top with toothpicks. Others will push a taper in the center of the round bread and light it. Many of the baskets have butter molded into lambs and many are decorated with fresh flowers, especially daffodils and/or blessed pussy willow from the week before. Instead of palm, Ukrainians use pussy willow because palm was not readily available in the Ukraine. (P.S. I always keep my salt and use it all year, it's blessed! And I sometimes put a small bottle of water in the basket to have blessed in case I ever need holy water. Hey, you never know!)

You know when the priest arrives as everyone backs away from the table and you hear the wonderful voices singing Khrystos Voskres (Christ is Risen). Since everything is in Ukrainian, I don't really know what else is said, sorry (but it sure does sound good). I just kind of hum along and join in when I hear "Khrystos Voskres" or "Amen." (The Ukies also cross themselves from right to left rather than left to right which threw me for a loop being a new Catholic!) Everyone sings as the priest walks around and sprinkles holy water on the baskets and blesses all the contents. As soon as he finishes his rounds, he disappears behind the ornate golden privacy screen and everyone covers their baskets and proceed upstairs to the church.

It is here where you put your baskets down in the pews and join a processional of sorts. There at the front of the chapel, on the floor, is a picture of Jesus on the cross covered in plastic sheeting. When you arrive at the bottom of the sheeting, you are to kneel and crawl on your knees to his feet. You first kiss his wounds at his feet and then proceed to his hands and kiss each wound there and finally his head. You then stand up and go back to your pew for silent prayers. It is such a beautiful church that it is easy to get lost in your own thoughts and meditate. You would never know you were in the middle of a city such as New York. (I have never attended mass here, but this is on my list of Things to Do Before I Die! I can only imagine how powerful it is--and very long, I'm told--the father tells about how his brother, an alter boy, would start to fade before mass had ended and someone would have to nudge him to wake him up before someone noticed! ha.) After all of this, you schlep back home with your baskets in tow and starve for yet another day! But, isn't that the point? It makes it just that much better when you have your "feast" on Easter Sunday. Yum.

Last, but not least, if a Ukrainian greets you at Easter with "Khrystos Voskres--Xpnctoc Bockpec," (remember, Christ is Risen) you are to respond "Voistyno Voskres--Boictnhy Bockpec" (Truly He is Risen). There will be a test before Easter, so I hope you are retaining all of this! Now that you have finished Ukrainian Easter 101, you can now move on to learning how to make pysanky.

Stay tuned.......

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