Memory of a Dollhouse
Visit to Grandma - Gostyń, Wielkopolska (1937)
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In Poland, Easter is a time of intense religious fervour. Among the festivities, Święconka is the blessing of Easter baskets celebrated on Holy Saturday. For this occasion, families prepare small baskets for the benediction in churches. In many regions, people are wearing the local traditional costume to attend this very popular ceremony. Our little dollhouse scenery pictures a young girl from Gostyń, returning from the church and visiting her Grandma to bring her an Easter basket (koszyczek wielkanocny).
The preparation of the Easter basket requires much attention. The list of items is precise and everything has a symbol. A Święconka basket should contain the following:
In some regions, the bread is cross-shaped with an egg in the middle but most Poles opt for one or several slices. According to our Książyk family tradition, we add a candle (symbol of revelation and eternal life), water (symbol of purity) and butter or cheese (symbol of luck). All this adds more volume to an already jam-packed little basket. Small palm fronds (symbol of martyrdom) and few strands of buxus (symbol of resurrection) make the finishing touch.
Święconka is a peak of excitation for every children. In the early 1920's, when my Grandfather was a little boy in Warsaw, he attended the blessing ceremony at the Church of All Saints (Parafia Wszystkich Świętych). The celebration was a long procession of families presenting their baskets to the altar. This huge church - the largest in Warsaw actually- was so overcrowded that several successive blessing ceremonies were organized all along the day.
Today in Poland, families have small baskets full of symbols. When they enter the church, they put all the baskets together on a large table or in front of the altar. Every year, this “basket parade” is the opportunity to compare contents and decoration. All the baskets are lined with pretty lace doilies, most of the time reserved for this festivity. Some baskets are covered with the precious handkerchief of Mom’s first Communion. Some others are covered with ribbons and fresh flowers. The imagination has no limits: I saw once a basket obviously decorated with a piece of bridal veil.
When our Grandfather visited his Grandparents in the countryside, the blessing ceremony was different. The Priest used to come to the house of our Great Great-Grandfather Paulin (1844-1921) for a blessing of the Święconka table in the dining room. The Easter cake known as baba or babka was the star of this ceremony. Our family legend holds that some memorable babkas were made with 40 eggs. Every year, the preparation of this Easter cake was a test for cooking skills. Whatever the size, babka is an unpredictable cake. With a dough of sponge cake, it should be baked as a brioche. When the babka refuses to rise properly or to get out of the mould, there is a tragedy in the kitchen.
Today, during Easter festivities, babkas of all sizes are crowding bakeries in Poland. Giant babkas can be ordered for reasonable prices. Many industrial pastries brands are proposing fancy versions that we do not recommend! Delicious homemade babkas are sold in the streets. This is the opportunity to taste receipes that are passed down through generations.
In the house of our Great Great-grandfather, the Święconka ceremony also gathered all the people working in his farm. After the family blessing, the Priest also blessed the baskets of the people attending. Documents from the early 20th century show that at this time, Święconka baskets were quite large and even impressively big. Peasants had many children and sometimes, they used wood tubs to make sure that all the food would get some drops the precious holy water.
After the ceremony, our Great Great-grandmother Julianna (1842-1919) distributed a large part to poor people who had followed the Priest with empty baskets. During the two previous days, her kitchen had been busy with the baking of extra bread and cakes. Her distribution included sausages and eggs for day labourer who had no houses to celebrate Easter festivities properly. This generosity was an important aspect of the Święconka celebration.
Four generations ago in Poland, the importance of Easter celebration in Catholic houses was some kind of resistance action. From 1772 to 1918, during 146 years, the country had disappeared from the map of Europe, divided and occupied by Prussia, Russia and Austria. The Catholic Church suffered from the oppression of German Protestant and Russian Orthodox rulers. Therefore, Easter celebrations were the occasion to demonstrate the resilience of the Polish Nation. In many villages, processions for Palm Sunday and Święconka Saturday gathered impressive crowds. Religious songs were intoned with the strength of patriotic proclamations.
During decades before the restoration of Independence, the Poles have also shared their resilience with patriotic Easter postcards. Interestingly, Święconka food was pictured with much precision. Artistic interpretations conveyed messages of peace, abundance, hope, and love. In these times of occupation hardship, uncertain harvests and recurring epidemics, receiving such positive messages was a blessing.
In our Święconka scenery, the young doll is wearing the folklore costume of the Biskupizna area, a micro-region located in the Gostyń district (Wielkopolska) with some 30 villages and Krobia as the "main town". Biskupianki People have a very distinctive culture with their own language, traditions, costumes, music and dance. The kopka hat of Biskupianki women is particularly recognizable and famous. It is a very elaborate structure made of tulle and lace with some kind of Easter babka on the top and several large bows in the back. There are different versions for young girls, for married women and for widows.
Today, many Książyk families are living in Wielkopolska and most of them are located in the area outlined by Jarocin, Kalisz, Gostyń, Kościan and Poznań. The Książyk families in France are also originating from this largest area with roots either in Żegocin, Nowe Miasto nad Wartą or Śrem. These towns are located outside the historic Biskupizna area and people have their own folk costume. Still, they consider that the bispupianki costume is the most powerful community symbol of Southern Wielkopolska.