Let’s take a time-travel trip back to the 1940s to the fictitious village in my historical whodunit novel series: Sanctuary Point. The village is located on the south shore of Long Island. The original setters of Long Island were the Dutch, some German and French settled later, followed by the English, then the Irish and the Scots. Last came the great migrations from eastern and southern Europe after the two world wars.
Mrs. Brogna (heroine Erica Brogna’s mother in BURNING HEARTS) and Mrs. Lenart (heroine Katrina Lenart’s mother in GOODBYE NOEL) are best of friends and neither is a novice in the kitchen. They both hail from Czechoslovakia and both are ardent Christians who are faithful to their little church in Sanctuary Point. Mrs. Lenart plays the piano during worship.
The Czechs call the Wednesday before Easter Ugly Wednesday because traditionally it is the day Judas betrayed Jesus. In past generations, all Easter baking had to be done by the Tuesday of Easter week. Intense house cleaning begins on Wednesday which is a hold over from the ritual cleaning of Passover. Easter eggs are decorated on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Holy Thursday or Green Thursday to the Czechs and Moravians is the day Jesus at the Last Supper with His disciples. This is a strict fast day when only vegetables can be eaten.
Good Friday in Czech traditions is the most solemn day on the calendar. In Czechoslovakia before the communist takeover, it was a day of prayer and fasting. The Czech Good Friday meal would be meatless, as it is in most European countries.
Easter Saturday is known as White Saturday in Czech tradition. It is the day new Christians are baptized in white robes.
As it is in the entire Christendom, Easter is the most important and the most triumphant feast day in the Czech calendar. In the early days, red was the only color used to dye and decorate Czech Easter eggs, symbolizing the blood of Jesus. On Easter Sunday, Czech people greet each other by saying, “Christ is risen.” The response would be, “Indeed He is risen.” The Czech Easter table holds whatever the family likes best and features roast lamb, pork, or duck, and for those who hunt, roast rabbit. Many tables display a variety of smoked meats and sausage. Traditionally vegetables include braised red cabbage. There would be salads, hard boiled eggs, Easter breads and cakes with a cross cut into them. And of course strudel.
In PERILOUS SHADOWS, heroine and pioneer newswoman Kiera Devane wouldn’t know her way around a kitchen if her life depended on it. So, hero and ace radio broadcaster, Argus Nye, would most likely take her to the fabled Garden City Hotel for Easter dinner. In the novel, this is where he proposed to her. A 1940s restaurant Easter meal might consist of: roast leg of lamb with roasted potatoes, buttered asparagus, tossed green salad, and praline sponge cake.
Lucinda Walsh, heroine in DARKEST HOUR, and her grandparents Nellie and Daniel Walsh, consider, as all Irish do, Easter to be the most important day in the Christian calendar. In their household, preparation for Easter starts at the beginning of Lent. The house has to be thoroughly cleaned. Many Irish refrain from eating any red meat for the entire forty days of Lent. This does not include Sundays, which are a feast day. They also refrain from indulging in a personal indulgence, such as alcohol, smoking, a favorite food, and the like. The Irish see the forty days of Lent as a time of self discipline.
The Irish take Good Friday very seriously. If they are in good health, many will fast for the entire day. Or at the very least will eat only a bite or two and take only a few sips of water. They remain in prayer from noon until three in the afternoon, the time Jesus hung on the cross.
The Eve of Holy Saturday is a vigil time for the Irish. A time of personal prayer and reflection.
In Irish households, Easter is a time to break out and celebrate. This is the day to be decked out in new clothes. Each family has a feast of roast lamb or mutton, potatoes, stuffing, and leeks, and the like. Easter eggs and chocolate eggs are given to children. This is a time for Irish step dancing.