I grew up with lots of Easter traditions. There were traditional foods (babka, pascka, cirrhets), ritual happenings (pizza at midnight to break the Good Friday fast), and traditional greetings (Christos Voskres! Voistin Voskres! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!). But the one tradition I never got was the horseradish challenge. And Sunday I missed the annual Easter horseradish challenge.
What is this challenge you ask? It's about opening a fresh (very FRESH) jar of horseradish. It's about slathering that fresh horseradish thickly on a slice of ham, preferably in a layer thicker than the ham itself. And it's about forking a large piece of horseradish and ham into your mouth, then closing tightly and not flinching while that very FRESH horseradish eats it's way into your brain. It's about the BURN. The stronger the better. You should be feeling that horseradish sting upwards into your nasal passages, sending pressure up into your eyeballs. Yes, if it's that good, you should be beet red from the stinging heat and perhaps if you're lucky, even crying.
Like I say, I missed it this year. My husband's family does not have this tradition. But this does not mean that my husband does not participate in such abuse. Instead for him it's about spicy chili. The spicier the better. In his case it's a good bowl of chili if it makes him sweat. Literally. If it's too mild he just tosses a chiltipin (a very tiny, very potent pepper) into his own bowl. Thankfully the rest of us don't have to join him (unlike the horseradish challenge this year where my brother goaded my mom into taking part).
So my question: what's up with that? Why eat something that hurts, burns, even fries the inside of your mouth (and head)? Sure, your sinuses might clear from the horseradish, but can you still taste anything else? Okay, so I'm far from understanding this tradition. I like my fresh horseradish in moderation. To me it's like the people who go to horror films for fun. What?! You like to be scared silly?
Can anyone explain?