Polish Easter Traditions

Every year, between March 22nd and April 25th, on the first Sunday after the first spring full moon, the Christian world celebrates Easter. The 40-days of Lent precede it – it is a time of deep reflection on the meaning of faith and life, time of prayer and preparation for the Resurrection of Christ.

This most important time begins with Palm Sunday. On this day, palms are blessed. In Poland, these are made out of willow branches with pussy willows, to which other greens like branches of yew, bilberry, and box-tree are added and decorated with dry flowers and ribbons. The Easter palms come in different sizes – from small to ones that are a kilometer long.

In Poland, palms are revered as providers of good. Those that are blessed in churches are then used to bless homes and livestock. At one time, they were hung under the thatch, to protect the house from evil, sickness, bad luck, and most importantly fire. To this day, blessed palms are stored with respect till next Easter.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week – time of fasting and many religious traditions. Day of greatest grieve comes with remembering the death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. On this day, the churches open the tomb of Christ. This custom dates back to seventeenth century. It was kept up over the years in Polish churches; along with the tradition of having soldiers guard the tomb.

Saturday is a day for blessing Easter symbols – thorns, water, and fire, also food symbols – most important being eggs, representing life, fertility, love, and strength. The oldest findings of decorated eggs; called ‘pisanki’, date back to tenth century from excavations sites near the cities of Opole and Wroclaw. In the olden days, the eggs were buried in fields and gardens to bring bountiful yields. It was also believed that eggs buried under the foundation of a house will being happiness and joy to all dwellers, and those thrown in fire will distinguish it.

Today, depending on the region of Poland and the way the eggs are decorated, they are called ‘pisanki’, ‘kraszanki’, ‘malowanki’ (painted), ‘skrobanki’ (scraped), and ‘rysowaki’ (drawn).

On Easter Sunday, a mass is said at dawn known as the Resurrection mass. It begins the celebration of Easter. This mass is often accompanied with a grand salute to show respect for the Risen Lord. After this mass, the faithful return home for a special breakfast. The meal begins with a ceremonial breaking of eggs. It’s reminiscent of the sharing of ‘oplatek’ on Christmas Eve.

The Easter breakfast is composed of baked meats, white sausage, eggs in white borsch (‘zurek’) and various pastries, the most important being the Easter bunt cake.

In many regions of Poland, small gifts are prepared for children. Long ago, they were placed under trees in orchards and called bunnies, symbolizing that these cute animals brought them. This tradition, though a bit changed, has survived through this day.

In Poland, the second day of Easter is also celebrated – Easter Monday. It has a fun and relaxing character. The most important tradition of this day is ‘Dyngus’, also called ‘Smingus’, or pouring with water. That’s why this day is also called Wet Monday.

The first mention of this custom, or actually the churches forbidding of it as a pagan action, dates back to fifteenth century. The tradition managed to survive. The words ‘smingus’ and ‘dyngus’ stood for two separate things. The first word means the action of hitting with a willow branch, and the latter means pouring of water. At one time, in some regions of Poland, the wet tradition continued for several days, with the only difference that the girls were always the ones being soaked, for the old Polish saying states: “Till Pentecost Sunday, you can soak every Friday.”

By Wanda Bartosiewicz
Translated by Monika Glazar

Forum, 3/2004