By Janis Fontaine

As people prepare to celebrate Easter and Passover toward the beginning of April, food is definitely part of the plan.

Both holidays are celebrations: Passover celebrates the freedom of the Israelites after centuries of slavery. Easter celebrates the forgiveness of sins and a guarantee of eternal life.

And when people are happy, we feast!

The foods Christians and Jews eat have symbolic meanings.

For Christians, eggs symbolize life and Christ’s resurrection. Bread is also symbolic of Jesus, and of course the lamb is Christ as well. Salt represents purification, and horseradish is symbolic of the bitter sacrifice of Christ. Ham and bacon are symbolic of great joy and abundance.

In the Jewish tradition, symbolic foods found on the seder table include a roasted lamb shankbone, which represents the sacrifice of the ancient Hebrews. Maror and chazeret are “bitter herbs,” frequently horseradish and romaine, which recall the bitterness of slavery. Charoset, a sweet salad of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon, represents the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to make bricks. And karpas — a green vegetable, usually parsley — symbolizes the freshness of spring. A roasted egg is a symbol of springtime and renewal. It isn’t eaten, but should look roasted to complete the plate.

But matzo is probably the most important symbol on the seder table. Three pieces of unleavened bread are covered with cloth. The unleavened bread (made without yeast) reminds Jews of how quickly they fled their enslavers — so quickly they could not wait for the bread to rise.

At St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, a centuries-old tradition called the Blessing of the Easter Basket is still practiced, but it doesn’t involve chocolate bunnies or jelly beans.

On Holy Saturday, congregants bring the food they’ll serve for Easter dinner to the church to be blessed by the priest. The tradition can be traced back to Eastern Europe with different cultures:

In Poland, the practice is called Święconka; the main food is an egg, which is broken and shared by all on Easter Sunday morning. The lamb is molded of butter or made from pastry as a centerpiece for the Easter table.

In Rome, a crisp white tablecloth is adorned with an uncooked Easter lamb and decorated with flowers, wine and fruit. A large traditional cake called “pizza” is also served.

In Russia, you’ll find painted eggs in the basket, as well as the makings for a traditional Orthodox Easter cake called kulich, a tall cylinder of yeast dough frosted with icing and nuts. The elites in Old Russia once served 48 dishes to match the number of days of the Lenten fast.

The biggest Easter food basket blessing in the world is held each year in the Romanian town Miercurea Ciuc. In 2018, more than 7,000 people came to have their Easter baskets blessed.

Here are the local Blessing of the Easter Basket and other Easter services for 2021 available as of late February:

Advent Church of Boca Raton — Easter services likely will take place at 9 and 10:30 a.m. April 4 in person. A sunrise service was in the planning stages. Check the church website at www.adventboca.org.
Ascension Catholic Church, Boca Raton — Holy Thursday, 7 p.m.; Good Friday, 3 p.m.; Saturday, 7 p.m. vigil; Sunday Mass at 8, 10 and noon. Visit www.accboca.net.
First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach — The church has been virtual-only since January, but is counting down to reopening, it hopes in time for the Easter services. Check the church website at www.firstdelray.com.
First United Methodist Church, Boca Raton — Virtual and in-person worship outside by reservation. Check with the church for details at www.fumcbocaraton.org.
St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, Boca Raton — Check with the church at www.stgregorysepiscopal.org.
St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, Boynton Beach — Check with the church at www.stjoesweb.org.
St. Lucy Catholic Church, Highland Beach — Check the church website at www.stlucycommunity.com.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Delray Beach — Palm Sunday vigil, 5 p.m. March 27, and Palm Sunday services, 8 and 10 a.m. March 28. An Easter Vigil, 6 p.m. April 3, Easter Sunday services, 7:30, 9 and 11 a.m. April 4. Virtual services will be broadcast on the church's website and YouTube channel. https://stpaulsdelray.org.
St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, Delray Beach — Holy Thursday, 7 p.m.; Good Friday, 3 p.m.; Holy Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Blessing of the Easter Basket; Easter Mass, 7, 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday.

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