The celebration of Easter is preceded by Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday. Palm branches and twigs commemorate Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. After the festivities, palm leaves were used for magic rites, such as conjuring up storms and consecrating women at childbirth and sick domestic animals. The original palm branch is replaced by a willow or raspberry branch, and is decorated with ribbons, flowers and leaves. It is believed that swallowing a willow catkin from a branch consecrated by a priest would bring health, and a palm branch placed behind a holy image until the following year would bring the inhabitants luck. The church bells that had resounded from Palm Sunday onwards fell silent on Holy Thursday. Rattles and clappers took their place. Fires were lit at crossroads so that wayfarers and poor people could warm themselves. Meals were also placed at these spots so that they could nourish themselves ~ and together with them the good spirits of the house. On the morning of Holy Thursday, the vestments are changed on the miraculous icon in the chapel of the Pauline monastery at Jasna Gora in Czestochowa. This is one of the most important sites of the religious Poles, and has been venerated as a national shrine since the 14th century.
Pisanki (elaborately designed Easter eggs) are made during Holy Week. The baking of breads and pastries is an art among Polish housekeepers and special confections, such as the famous Babka, are prepared for Easter, as are lamb-shaped cakes and lambs molded from butter. Along with various cured meats, sausage and ham, these items are arranged in a large basket and taken to church on Holy Saturday for a special blessing. These blessed foods constitute the basis of the Polish Swieconka or Easter Meal.
Candle (Swieca) The only non-edible item in the basket, the candle symbolize Jesus, the Life and Light of the World. The candle can be lit during the blessing.
Colored Eggs (Pisanki) Both colored and uncolored eggs, indicate hope, new life and Resurrection. Because of their special meaning, it is fitting that the eggs to be blessed are decorated with symbols of Easter.
Ham (Szynka) This popular main dish is symbolic of great joy and abundance.
Horseradish (Chrzan) This represents the bitter herbs prescribed in the original Passover meal as a reminder of the bitterness and harshness of the life of slavery in Egypt. It also reminds us of the bitterness of the Passion of Jesus, by which he entered glory. Horseradish is often prepared with red beets.