Below is an excerpt of a wonderful article that explains each item traditionally brought to church on Holy Saturday for the Blessing of Baskets. This was written on March 17, 2021 by Bishop William Waltersheid, Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh. For the full article and more details on the history of this tradition please visit the Diocesan website.
"Did you know that this custom of blessing of baskets is an ancient tradition that originated in Central and Eastern Europe? The earliest known recorded prayers for the blessing of foods on Holy Saturday are found in a Missal published in Krakow, Poland dating from the year 1350. In addition, there is evidence that this custom originated before the year 1000.
The foods we eat at Easter are blessed to commemorate His dynamic act of salvation, His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We eat these blessed foods to break our Lenten fast so that we might joyfully remember that He is risen, alive and with us.
Let’s look at which foods typically fill the baskets to be blessed.
Maslo (Butter) – Usually butter is shaped into a figure of the Paschal Lamb (Christ Himself) or of a three-barred cross. A small banner with a cross may be placed on the Lamb. On the cross may be placed five peppercorns or five cloves symbolizing the wounds that Jesus suffered on the cross. This figure shows us the Lamb slain (Rev 13:8) who is the Victor over sin and death.
Babka (Easter Bread) – A sweet, yeast bread rich in eggs, butter and other condiments, it is a symbol of Christ Himself, who is our True Bread come down from heaven (Jn 6:32). Usually it is baked as a round loaf with a golden crust decorated with some symbol indicative of Christ, such as a braided cross, a lamb or something similar.
Jajka (eggs) and Pisanki (decorated with symbols of Easter) - These are highly decorated eggs with symbols and markings made with beeswax. They are symbolic of hope, new life and a reminder of Jesus’ Resurrection (Jn 11:25). Often family members with these hard-boiled eggs in hand will strike one against another while saying, “Christ is risen, Alleluia! He is truly risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!”. The cracked eggshell is symbol of the opened tomb of the Lord at His Resurrection.
Szynka (Ham) Kielbasa (sausage) - These foods are a reminder that the Old Law that forbade their consumption is now fulfilled in the New Law and belief in the Resurrection of Christ. (Acts 10-11-17)
Chleb (Bread) – This type of “regular” bread is symbolic of new life and a reminder of Jesus the Bread of Life who is really and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist (Mt 26:26)
Chrzan (horseradish) – Is a reminder of the original Passover Supper that used bitter herbs showing the bitter life of the Jewish people in Egypt. It also reminds us of the bitter agony suffered by Our Lord during His Passion. (Ex 12:8)
Sol (salt) – Salt is a fundamental seasoning and used as preservative. As a condiment used for flavor, it reminds Christians of our duties towards others and to “flavor” the world with faith in Christ. Jesus said to his disciples in the Gospel, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Mt 15:13)
Ser (cheese) – A custard type cheese shaped into a ball which has a bland but sweet taste. It is indicative of the moderation that Christians should have in all things. It is a reminder that the world through which we journey is bland compared to the sweetness of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Makowiec (poppyseed roll) – This sweet delicacy calls to mind the sweetness of knowing Christ and taking His easy yoke upon our shoulders. (Mt 11:28-30)
Candle - A candle that is lighted is often attached to the basket serving as s rich symbol of Christ whose Resurrection illumines our heart and all of creation. He says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follow me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. “ (Jn 8:12) It remind us of the Paschal Candle that is blessed and lighted with the fire kindled and blessed at the celebration of the Easter Vigil.
Colorful Ribbons and Sprigs of Greenery – These are attached to the basket as signs of joy and new life in the season of spring and in celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord.
Linen Cover – This cover is often beautifully embroidered with Christian symbols such as the Paschal Lamb or a cross and may be passed down from generation to generation. When it is drawn back to expose the food to be blessed, it reminds us of the shroud being cast off by Our Lord at the moment of His Resurrection. (Jn 20:2-7)
With the joy of the Resurrection filling our hearts, we remember with gratitude all of the gifts that God has given us. This makes us realize that we are called to share His bounty with those who are in need. Often in churches there will be receptacle in which each family is asked to put some of their blessed food for the poor. What a wonderful reminder that our love for God urges us on to love one another! We love our brothers and sisters because God has so loved us!"
+William J. Waltersheid
Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh