Lent and Easter in Hamtramck was not like the days before Christmas. It was the 1940's and WW2 was still in progress and there was that thing called rationing to me Lent was a sort of grey thing, not the beautiful haze grey that greets a fresh Spring morning but a dark grey that marks a funeral. I always think of holidays in terms of color.
Lent started out on Ash Wednesday when the Nuns who were our teachers marched all the children to church and we had the ashes applied to our forehead and we each made a pledge to give up something for Lent. With me it was foregoing the Saturday matinee at the local movie theater; wow, that was a sacrifice and a good matinee could cost all of 12 cents. For a youngster this was something big because that also meant no candy or ice cream cone. In those days 25 cents could go a long way and buy many goodies on a Saturday. It seemed as if everything was cloaked in grey, even the cloths people wore seemed drab. Yes people went about with their daily life, but, this time it seemed different because it felt as if there was no cheer anywhere or so it seemed.
If Lent was grey than Holy Week was doom and gloom. Every day our parents would take us to church where the Stations Of The Cross would take place and the Rosary recited and then the BIG day Good Friday. On this day children could be seen but not heard, there was no music comming from the radio and in fact the radio was turned off on this day. There was no music to be heard anywhere and no entertainment of any kind. At noon all the stores, restarunts and bars would close down and it seemed as if everyone went to Church for three hours. So help me Hannah at 3PM a thunderstorm would break out with lightning flashing and thunder echoing through empty streets. we children were quiet, we did not talk or joke and if we violated any of these unspoken rules we were met with dour frowns from our elders. Holy Saturday came and we could start breaking from the sterness of Lent. Easter Eggs were made and painted and the women started preparing the Easter Feast. Beautifully decorated Easter baskets were brought out and filled with a portion of the Easter dinner and covered with a small tablecloth. These baskets were taken to church where they were blessed by the pastor. We could tell that the rigors of Lent were over because the priest would have a soft, gentle smile on his face. The greyness of gloom was starting to lift when we left church and the sun started to peek out.
Easter Sunday would come and what a glorious day it was. We all went to morning Mass and everyone would be wearing something. There was no Easter bunny, what is the Easter bunny? this was a relegious holiday and there was no place for secular fantasies. On this day Easter Eggs were given to relatives and friends with great abandon and everyone would have a colorful collection by late afternoon. Easter was the other holiday when we could look forward to a feast. If I remember correctly there was ham, kielbasa (two varieties, natural and smoked), pierogis (filled with minced kapusta), czarnina and chicken soup with a very large bowl of home made kluski, last but not least was the obligatory horseradish (red and white) that was use on everything. Ah, I did forget something, the bread, the braided kind and the pumpernickel.
My memories of Lent and Easter are not that good because it was a time that did not include a spirit of happiness. It did not occur to me as a child that Lent and Holy Week could be celebrated in a very different way in different parts of the world. When culture shock is mentioned it hardly describes the shock I felt when spent several Holy Weeks in Spain.
We should not forget that the Last Supper was a celebration of the Passover which was a miracle from God.
Polish Touches: Recipes and Traditions by Jacek Nowakowski (Editor), Marlene Perrin (Editor)