Written by Klaudia D. Czerwińska
In Poland, a country where Roman-Catholic religious practices are still widely present, Easter happens to be one of the most beautiful celebrations in the calendar. Not as spectacular in many ways as Christmas, it is, however, a beautiful symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ but also nature coming back to life after a long and tiresome winter.
For many people spiritual preparation for the holiday starts with the Great Lent 40 days before the actual Resurrection Day. Traditionally, during Lent people were not supposed to eat meat, sweets, alcohol and tobacco in their diet and stick only to light foods and small portions. Historically, that might have also been caused by the long winters, thinning supplies and food rationing introduced to sustain till the end of winter. Until recently, the tradition has been deeply rooted within the Polish culture. There is even a saying: “A Pole prefers to break his hand than to break Lent”.
As Lent is coming to an end, a week before the Easter weekend is Palm Sunday (Niedziela Palmowa) also called Kwietna (Flourishing) or Wierzbna (Willow – from the weeping willow’s branches used as palms) commemorating Jesus Christ’s visit to Jerusalem. If you get a chance it is worth attending a mass to join the celebrations. It is a truly remarkable day as whole families take their palms made of lush branches of boxwood, catkins, dyed herbages, paper flowers, ribbons, dried flowers and many more. Part of the tradition in most regions is to prepare palms yourself – you can find schools were kids make their own little pieces in their arts and crafts classes. But worry not! If you want to be a part of the celebration you may also buy a read-made piece if your skills do not allow you to make your own! If you happen to be in the Mazovian area it is worth considering a trip to Łowicz, a town 86 km west of Warsaw where the traditions of the Mazovian Voivodeship are still alive and well. During Palm Sunday there are people dressed in regional costume following a procession to the church with palms of their own making (some of which are even over 4 meters long!). Once you make your way to Łowicz don’t forget to visit the Museum of Łowicz at Stary Rynek 5/7 and enjoy one of the best displays of regional costumes, arts and artefacts in Poland!
Regional Łowicz female dress at the Museum of Łowicz (Photography: ©Klaudia Czerwińska)
Interior of a reconstructed Łowicz traditional cottage at the Museum of Łowicz (Photography: ©Klaudia Czerwińska
Another beautiful celebration of Palm Sunday takes place in the village of Łyse, Kurpie district in Mazovian Voivodeship. Get it on your list!
Palm Sunday celebrations in Łyse village
The following days are usually busy as most Poles get their houses cleaned and start getting ready for the weekend. In Poland, whatever big holiday you celebrate it is not about gifts, religion or food. These are all significant components but nothing matters as much as family. Once in Poland you will learn family bonds are probably one of the most important things in this culture.
Easter Friday tends to be a day of pensiveness and preparation for the Easter Saturday. There is also an evening mass called Droga Krzyżowa (Way of the Cross) where at the end Jesus’ body is placed in a grave. Each commune prepares the Grave of Jesus Christ – a symbolic place in the church, where among flowers, rocks and candles lays a sculpture representing the Savior. This follows into Easter Saturday. This day is probably the most fun for kids since every house prepares what in Poland is called Święconka – a ceremonial basket filled with a variety of foods. Each basket is different in size, shape, decoration, content, however all of them have things in common. Each Easter basket must have a piece of sausage, bread, salt, pepper, hard-boiled eggs, fresh cress or oats and, of course, a small sugar lamb. These are the basic requirements but depending on the area as well as tradition different foods could be found in the baskets (according to records the first noted blessing of the foods in Poland took place in the year 1300!). During a visit to a church a priest blesses the foods, water, flame and paschał (a holy candle). The content of the Easter basket must remain untouched until the next morning – the morning of the Resurrection.
Traditional Polish Easter basket and a homemade pound cake (Photography: ©Klaudia Czerwińska)
On this day families gather for a celebratory dinner (possibly excluding meat), grandmothers and mothers make pound cakes and whole families would make wydmuszki (hollow egg shells) to dip them in hot wax and scratch out the patterns or simply use paints and vegetable broths to colour them.
Painted and scratched Easter eggs in Kraków, Old Town Market (Photography: ©Klaudia Czerwińska)
It is Easter Sunday, you made it! You survived your first Easter in Poland and you get to sit at a table filled with delicious foods including the contents of the Easter basket! It is important to get everything out and share it evenly with every person sitting at the table – it’s your time to wish them well! Easter breakfast can usually take up to 3 hours but generally speaking the table should always be set so that anyone could come up to it and have a nib at any moment.
Here is a list of foods to try during Easter in Poland:
- Sałatka jarzynowa - cooked root vegetable salad with mayo dressing
- Pickled forest mushrooms
- Nóżki - pork feet jelly
- Hard boiled eggs (different styles)
- Tuna salad (with mayo dressing)
- Barszcz biały - white borscht with white sausage and potato mash
- Śledź - herring different styles
- Mazurek - traditional Polish shortcrust tart
- Baba Wielkanocna - Easter pound cake
No matter how much you hear about different traditions around this day it is mostly about eating and spending time with your family and friends. Have no shame and help yourself to your third piece of mazurek! Just because it is Easter Sunday it doesn’t mean everything is over. There is still Monday ahead and in Poland it is a pretty exciting day. If you do not enjoy early spring baths outside I suggest you stay home on that day. Why? Because it is Lany Poniedziałek (Dyngus Day) also known as Śmigus-Dyngus. What does this mean? A whole lot of water. Surprise!
Postcard by Nationwide Specialty Co., Arlington, Texas -- In Buffalo, N.Y., Stanley Novelty Co., 200 S. Ogden St. - Boston Public Library - https://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/7045688651/, CC BY 3.0, Link
There are different versions of the story but mostly Dyngus Day is related to a popular belief that it is a symbol of baptism and purification from sins. In Polish culture it was an occasion for young men to show their interest in girls by chasing after them and showering them with water. The most popular girls were adorned and protected by the chosen boy and the less lucky girls had to put up with endless showers. In modern times it is a fun day (which all the kids particularly enjoy) but beware or else you might end up with a bucket full of water on your head wearing your Sunday best! It doesn’t seem as bad when it is warm outside, however it’s less pleasurable experience once you’re wet head to toe in 10 degrees celcius…
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