Sunday, May 1, 2011

Eats - Better Late Than Never: Slovak Easter meal

Hello! We spent Easter Sunday with my family, so today my husband, daughter and I had our own Easter dinner.

As far as I know, I don't have a drop of Central/Eastern European blood in me, but my husband is 3/4 Slovak and 1/4 Czech. I was fascinated by his family's Slovak Easter dinner customs and have adopted them as my own. 

I liked that there are many traditional foods for a Slovak Easter and that they are symbolic of various things. I simplified the meal, since there are just three of us, but here's what was served today:

On the left side is a platter of ham; symbolic of the great joy of Easter and a sign of abundance.

Center is the lamb cake; symbolic of Jesus being the Lamb of God.

On the right side is a platter of Pascha (Easter bread), which is symbolic of Christ Himself who is our True Bread; and Cirec (referred to as a "cheese", but is really a very firm cooked egg custard); bland but sweet, it is indicative of the moderation Christians should have in all things.

My mother-in-law would also always serve klobasa (sausage, like the Polish word "kielbasa"); its links remind us of the chains of death which were broken when Jesus arose. My father-in-law and his sister Auntie Mary would eat horseradish along with the klobasa; symbolic of the bitterness and suffering of Christ which culminated in the Resurrection. (I can tell you that the horseradish they favored was so strong that eating too much of it at once would cause suffering!)

We didn't get around to dyeing Easter eggs this year, but yes, they are included in a Slovak Easter dinner as well:  brightly-decorated eggs are a symbol of New Life, the life Jesus gave us by rising from the dead. 

(There are other foods that are common, but I think I've listed most of the main items).

As for the embroidered cloth in the photo, that is connected to another Easter custom, the taking of the Easter food in a basket to be blessed at church by the priest the day before Easter. At my in-laws' church in Chicago, just a portion of each part of the meal was packed into the basket, then covered with a nice cloth. However, when we lived out east and attended basket blessings at a Slovak church in Bridgeport, PA, it appeared that at least some families would pack the entire dinner to be blessed at the church - even the kids' Easter baskets, already filled with candy!

One year my in-laws' church was selling an embroidery transfer, presumably of a traditional design, to be used in making a basket cloth. My husband's Auntie Mary bought me one, so in due time I embroidered a nice fabric with the transfer and took it to Chicago the next Easter. Now, although my in-laws' church had always done basket blessings, my husband never remembered his family taking part in the custom. I hadn't realized this, but my mother-in-law was a good sport. Instead of making the Easter meal on Saturday as she had always done before, she and I fixed the foods on Friday so that it would all be ready for the basket blessing the next morning.

The phrase on the cloth, "Pan Jezis Kristus Vstal Z Mrtvych - Alleluja!" translates into "Lord Jesus Christ Has Risen From the Dead - Alleluia!" With its tendency toward using lots of consonants in a row before throwing in a vowel, Slovak wasn't easy for me to learn, but I tried my best when that language was used at my in-laws' church. (it closed in the early 1990's and I still miss it). 

This is just a brief summary of Slovak Easter customs that I am familiar with, but I hope you can see why I adopted the traditions so readily. As I had mentioned already, I like the fact that the foods are very traditional and so meaningful as well. And except for the cirec, which I can take or leave, everything is very tasty as well!

(Note: symbolic meanings were taken from the April 1990 issue of Zenska Jednota and from a handout I had saved from one of the basket blessing events). 


  1. I like cirec. But I never knew that's how you spelled it. I always thought it started with a S.

  2. I have seen it with an S as well but "cirec" is how your Grandma Rose spelled it. It might be a variant from the part of Slovakia from which your great-grandparents had come.