CUYAHOGA FALLS: An old European Easter tradition meshed with contemporary holiday fervor on Saturday at St. Joseph Catholic Church, where traditional parishioners brought baskets of food to be blessed before Sunday dinner while others brought empty baskets, also to be blessed, and then filled by children foraging for bunny eggs.
The blessing is rooted in Slavic Catholic tradition, later adopted throughout the Catholic Church in America. The event, during which a pastor mixes food with prayer and holy water, marks the end of the six penitent weeks of Lent.
It’s traditional and wholesome for some, who have grown up in the shadows of their heritage.
“Every thing we had [growing up], we made it,” Anna Svendsen said with a Slavic accent.
The Cuyahoga Falls resident is a second-generation immigrant from Ukraine. She set down her homemade basket, a family heirloom, at the altar at St. Joe’s. Inside was fresh-churned butter, kielbasa, goat cheese, horseradish root and Easter bread.
Decorated blow-out eggs, not the contemporary hard-boiled and painted kind, lined Svendsen’s basket, which was covered in a pristine cloth embroidered in Ukranian national colors, yellow and blue.
Svendsen sat with dozens of parishioners in the pews listening to readings from the book of Deuteronomy from the Old Testament. Beside her was Rosemary Dzatko, a fellow old soul of East European descent.
Dzatko, a 30-year member of St. Joe’s, was raised with the blessing tradition.
“It’s just how you start your Easter,” she said, holding a basket covered in a family cloth, which she said is more than a century old.
Beneath the cloth were smoked meats, eggs, a horseradish beet relish “and wine, of course,” she added with a chuckle.
“This is old world,” said Rose Mercurio, head sacristan at the church, pointing to the traditional and homemade trappings of Easter dinner.
“That’s new,” she added, pointing to a basket filled with store-bought bread and Russell Stover’s chocolate bunnies.
“As time goes by, traditions do fall,” observed Mercurio, encouraged by the younger turnout on Saturday. “Younger folks are keeping up.”
Regardless of its origin, the Rev. Jared Orndorff blessed the food by flinging holy water from an aspergillum and giving prayer.
Then, he invited the children to the front to receive another blessing before being turned loose to collect Easter eggs at St. Joseph School, a K-8 building less than a block away.
The children squinted and giggled as Orndorff splashed their faces with holy water.
Isabelle Ubelhart, a 9-year-old student at St. Joe’s, brushed the droplets from her face with her right hand, before crossing her heart. Isabelle and her family attended the Saturday Mass and blessing for the first time.
“We didn’t really know what to expect,” said Tom Ubelhart, her father.
It was a new experience for the couple, who noted that at such a young age, every Easter is new to the two girls. While the blessing may be novel to the Ubelhart family, youngest daughter Gabby has a firm grasp of what to look forward to each year.
“Easter Bunny gets you eggs,” she said.
The blessed children left the church and skipped down the street, swinging empty baskets in the spring sunshine on their way to the school, where older children hastily hid eggs.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.