It was easy for Donna Gray, of Valparaiso, to recognize her Easter food basket Saturday, amid the more than 75 other carefully assembled feast-worthy vessels on the altar of St. Paul's Catholic Church in Valparaiso.
Gray's basket included a pineapple poking out, as one of her menu items blessed Saturday for the annual blessing of Easter food baskets.
"I've been bringing a basket to be blessed for the past 20 years, and it's a tradition I started for my family, and one I hope others will continue for years to come," Gray said.
Although he offered only a short prayer and blessing service of 15 minutes, the Rev. Joseph Pawlowski made certain not to miss any of the baskets, both big and small, while sprinkling the contents with holy water at the conclusion of the gathering.
Vicki Turek, of Valparaiso, was proud of her stacked basket, filled with bread, decorated eggs, Polish sausage, a butter lamb mold and ham.
"I've been bring baskets for 36 years, following the tradition of my Polish mother-in-law," Turek said.
"What's nice about recent years is you now see many more families and young children who attend and participate."
Brent and Beth Barber, of Valparaiso, were among the parents who brought their children to Saturday's event.
Daughter Catherine, 4, even had her own smaller basket, filled with delicious finds. Her younger brother, Richie, only 2, will have to wait another year to enjoy the contents.
"When the baskets are uncovered for the blessing, everything smells so good," said Brent Barber, whose family basket featured the traditional Easter dinner staples, including sauerkraut.
"My wife's family is Italian and Slovak, so this is a special tradition to pass on to new generations."
Other churches around the region observe the same ritual on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, referred to as Holy Saturday.
At St. Mary Catholic Church at 525 N. Broad St. in Griffith, the Rev. Theodore Mens encourages families to attend together and even offers a special "children's blessing" during the basket service.
As for the symbolism of the food contents in baskets, each item carries a significant meaning.
Meats represent "the abolishment of the 'Old Law' and the establishment of 'New Law' in the Resurrection of Christ," while horseradish, beet relish, salt and pepper are likened to the "bitter herbs" of Passover and a reminder of "Christ's bitter suffering." Since salt is a fundamental seasoning and preservative, it is symbolic of prosperity and justice.
And while eggs equal birth and resurrection, a lamb mold of sugar, butter or cake represents "the Lamb of God" and breads are today's grains, considered life-giving essentials of both man and God's harvest.