POLISH EASTER TRADITIONS
POLISH CONSTITUTION DAY MAY 3RD
CORPUS CHRISTI - BOZE CIALO
LAJKONIK
BOCIANY/STORKS
EVE OF ST. JOHN'S DAY - NOC SWIETOJANSKA
MATKI BOZEJ ZIELNEJ - OUR LADY OF THE FIELDS
DOZYNKI - HARVEST FESTIVAL
NOVEMBER IN POLAND
POLISH ADVENT TRADITIONS
POLISH CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
POLISH WEDDING TRADITIONS

 

 

POLISH EASTER TRADITIONS

 

 

Polish Easter traditions are as old and beautiful as Polish Christmas traditions and they require just as much elaborate preparation. These traditions celebrate not only the central mystery of the Catholic faith, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, they also celebrate the coming of spring and the long-awaited rebirth and renewal of nature after the long, dark months of winter. The Polish name for Easter is Wielkanoc, which means Great Night-the night from Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday-when the miracle of the Resurrection took place.


Lent or Wielki Post is the six-week period of religious preparation for Easter. Before the fasting that is a part of Lent, everyone enjoys one last week of merrymaking and good food. This is called Fat Week or Tlusty Tydzien. It starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, when costume parties are held and millions of the famous jelly doughnuts called paczki are baked and consumed. In the United States, paczki are eaten on Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras, but in Poland these delicacies are a part of weeklong celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday.

On Ash Wednesday people go to church for ashes and they also cut pussy willow branches, called bazie or kotki and place them in water , in the hope that they will bloom by Palm Sunday. The six weeks of Lent, leading to Easter Sunday, are a time of fasting and prayer. Stations of the Cross and Gorzkie Zale are two religious traditions observed during Lent. Gorzkie Zale, which means Bitter Sorrows, are beautiful hymns or lamentations that are sung on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons in Lent. These are ancient chants, retracing the Passion and Crucifixion, and their soulful notes ring out of all churches in cities and villages in Poland during Lent.

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week when preparations for Easter can start in earnest. Since palms do not grow in Poland, people take pussywillow branches to church to be blessed by the priest on Palm Sunday, or sprigs of colored straw. The branches and sprigs are then hung in houses, usually tucked behind a holy picture, to bring health and prosperity to the household during the coming year.

Holy Week, Wielki Tydzien, includes spiritual and other preparations for Easter. Homes are cleaned, curtains washed, and the baking and cooking begins. In olden times, ham and sausages were made and smoked at home, and bread and other pastries were baked from scratch. The baking tradition continues today and tall airy babkas, flat colorful shortbread cakes called mazurki, and rich creamy cheesecakes or serniki are lovingly prepared. Each housewife wants to have a large selection of homemade pastries to place on her Easter table. Easter eggs, called pisanki, are also made during Holy Week.

On Holy Thursday, people go to church for a service that commemorates the Last Supper. The priest washes the feet of twelve parishioners and repeats the actions and words of Jesus Christ, starting the celebration of the Passion that will take place over the next three days. On Holy Friday, after 3 p.m., which is the time that Jesus died on the cross, each church sets up a tomb where the Holy Eucharist is placed as well as a statue of Jesus taken down from the cross. Parishioners stand guard at the tomb all night as people come and pray. Many people go from village to village and in the city from church to church to pray at the tombs, called groby. No baking is allowed on Holy Friday, but people spend time coloring Easter eggs and preparing baskets to be blessed in church on Holy Saturday.

The most colorful additions to Polish Easter baskets are the Easter eggs, called pisanki. There are many different names for Easter eggs in Poland, depending on the method that is used to make them. Click here to learn more about the many methods of making Polish Easter eggs. In addition to the eggs, a Polish Easter basket includes sausage or ham, bread, butter, salt, and horseradish. The eggs symbolize life, spring, and the Resurrection. Bread represents Christ, the bread of life. The sausage or ham represent abundance and God's generosity. The horseradish represents the passion of Christ and salt symbolizes prosperity. Butter represents good will and the decorations of green sprigs, pussy willows, or daffodils represent joy. People all over Poland walk with their Easter baskets in hand to church on Holy Saturday-where a priest blesses them with holy water-and then they go straight home to try some of the blessed food, which tastes all the more delicious after weeks of fasting during Lent.

On Sunday morning, a beautifully laid table is prepared and covered with pisanki, ham, sausage, cold meats, salads and relishes, including cwikla, made with grated beets and horseradish, bread, babki, mazurki, and other pastries, and, in the center, a lamb made of butter or sugar, commemorating the resurrected Christ. No smoke was permitted on Easter Sunday so no warm food was served, other than zur, the traditional sour soup that is a must on the Easter menu. Easter Brunch is called Swieconka, which means blessed food, since many of the items served on Easter Sunday had been blessed in church on Holy Saturday. The Easter Brunch starts with the sharing of a blessed egg-everyone takes a piece of the egg from the head of the household as they exchange best wishes with one another.

On Easter Monday the water consumption in Poland shoots way up and this is due to an ancient custom that is still observed today, in villages and cities alike. It is called Smigus Dyngus or Wet Monday when people sprinkle each other with water on the day after Easter, or, in the case of young people, they don't sprinkle but douse each other with buckets of water. Boys lie in wait to surprise young girls to see who can get whom wet first! In extreme cases, you might even be thrown into a stream of cold water with all your clothes on!

The custom of pouring water is an ancient spring rite of cleansing, purification, and fertility that is practiced all over the world, from Europe to China. In Poland it takes on a religious meaning since, according to legend, Prince Mieszko I, the first king of Poland, was married and baptized on Easter Monday in the year 966 AD. He had the entire nation of Poland christened on his wedding day as well, and Poland has been a deeply religious country every since, for over one thousand years.

 

 

PISANKI

 

 

Polish Easter Eggs - Pisanki

Eggs are a symbol of spring and rebirth all around the world, and they have also become the most enduring symbol of Easter and the Resurrection. In Poland, Easter egg-making has developed into a true art form and there are as many methods of making them as there are traditions and rituals associated with them. Easter eggs are called pisanki in Polish, which comes from the word pisac, which means to write. Designs are drawn or words are written on a hardboiled egg with a wax stylus, then placed in a dye. When the wax is scraped off, a white pattern is revealed on the colored egg.

Pisanki are usually prepared in Polish homes during Holy Week, especially on Holy Friday. On Holy Saturday, the colored eggs are placed in baskets, along with butter, bread, salt, horseradish, sausage, and ham, and taken to church to be blessed by a priest

Altough pisanka has come to mean Easter egg in Polish, it represents only one of the methods used to decorate eggs in Poland. Here are some of the most popular types of Easter eggs in Poland:

Pisanki - eggs with wax patterns "written" or drawn on them, then dyed
Kraszanki - solid-color eggs, dyed with plant materials such as beets, onion skins, and leaves
Malowanki - hand-painted eggs
Drapanki - solid-color eggs with a design scratched onto the surface
Wyklejanki - eggs decorated with colored yarn
Nalepianki - eggs decorated with paper cut-outs or straw


Sometimes, hollow eggs are used instead of hardboiled. The eggs can then be displayed all year long, ensuring good health and prosperity. The solid-color eggs were used for consumption; the decorated and hollow eggs would be saved from year to year. Once blessed in church on Holy Saturday, eggs were never thrown out, nor were the eggshells. Instead they would be buried in the garden or field as crops were sown, bringing good fortune and ensuring a good harvest. The water used in cooking Easter eggs was also saved and used to water fruit trees and to wash beehives. This was believed to result in sweet-tasting fruit and delicious golden honey.

On Easter Sunday, before Swiecone, the traditional Polish Easter Brunch, a blessed Easter egg is shared by the family, as Easter wishes are exchanged. Pets and livestock were given a blessed Easter egg to eat as well.

For Polish Easter Recipes, click here.

 


 

 

POLISH CONSTITUTION DAY MAY 3rd

 

 

Did you know… that the Polish Constitution is the second-oldest Constitution in the world and the first Constitution in Europe? It was ratified on May 3, 1791, only four years after the American Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Did you know… that the Polish Constitution so enraged Poland's super-power neighbors that they partitioned the country in an attempt to keep democracy from spreading beyond Poland's borders? Russia, Prussia, and Austria divided Poland into three sections and ruled the nation for over 100 years.

Did you know… that Poland has two national holidays? May 3rd Constitution Day and November 11th Independence Day. That was the day in 1917 when Poland's Independence was reinstated by the Regency Council, after more than 100 years of partition by its neighbors.

 

 

 

CORPUS CHRISTI - BOZE CIALO

 

 

The feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) or Boze Cialo is observed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday all over Poland. Houses, doorways, and windows are decorated with greenery, flowers, and holy pictures and makeshift altars and shrines are built in the streets.

Traffic comes to a virtual standstill at noon as from every church in the country a procession leaves with people walking behind the priest who is carrying the Blessed Sacrament. Many of the people are dressed in their regional costumes. The colorful procession winds through the streets, stopping at the temporary shrines to sing and pray. The shrines are also decorated with branches and members of the processions pick twigs and leaves from them for good luck and happiness. Young girls dressed in First Holy Communion dresses scatter flower petals on the street in front of the priest while young boys carry incense. It is a day of celebration and prayer in all of Poland, as well as a national holiday.

 

 


LAJKONIK

 

 

The legend of Lajkonik goes back to medieval times, when Poland was often invaded by Mongol tribes from the East. In 1241, the people of Krakow successfully repelled one such attack and this triumphant day is celebrated every year on the first Thursday after the religious holiday of Corpus Christi during the Lajkonik Festival.

Lajkonik has become one of the most beloved unofficial symbols of the city of Kraków. It is represented as a bearded man resembling a Tatar in a pointed hat, dressed in colorful attire, with a wooden horse around his waist. Some say that the legend originated in pre-Christian times when it was believed that in the spring a horse brought good luck and high crop yields. Later this was combined with the historical stories of a Mongol invasion that was warded off by the brave people of the city. Today, the Lajkonik Festival begins with a colorful parade of medieval dragons, knights, kings, and maidens, led by the Lajkonik who prances around chasing people with his mace. It is said that if he touches you with his mace, you will have good luck throughout the coming year! The parade starts at the Wawel Castle and ends in the center of town, in Market Square.

 

 

 

BOCIANY / STORKS

 

 

Nothing says spring in Poland more than the arrival of the beloved "bociek" or stork. You can see their large nests on rooftops, towers, chimneys, telephone poles, walls, haystacks, and on specially constructed nest towers. Storks are said to bring good luck and many homeowners will erect special stork ledges on their roofs to encourage them to nest there.

Poland is home every summer to over half of the 160,000 European storks thought to be in existence today. They are tall white wading birds, with long red legs and long red beaks. They play a colorful role in Polish fairy tales and folklore. They are much loved by young and old alike and they are considered harbingers of the weather, marking the warm months with their activities. Here are some folk sayings about storks in Poland:

If storks arrive on St Joseph's Day (March 19), the snows will soon melt away.
On Annunciation Day (March 25), a stork will be in its nest to stay.
On St Wojciech's Day (April 23), the stork an egg will lay.
On St. Bartholomew's Day (August 24), the stork prepares to fly away.

The storks fly from Poland to Africa for the winter months with their young. Over 100,000 stork babies are hatched in Poland every summer. Storks really seem to love their adopted country of Poland!

 

 

 

EVE OF ST. JOHN'S - NOC SWIETOJANSKA

 

 

People have always celebrated the summer solstice. The shortest night of the year is a night of festivities and merry-making all across the world. In Catholic Poland, the celebration of this night was moved a few days to coincide with the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist on June 24th. So the night that is celebrated with festivals in Poland is called the Eve of St. John's and it falls on June 23rd.

 

 

Traditions of the summer solstice focus on two of nature's elements: fire and water. These elements symbolize male and female characteristics and the celebrations in Poland include the burning of huge fires by men and boys, who also danced around them and jumped through them, while girls made wreaths from flowers and herbs and floated them down the rivers and streams, sometimes adding burning candles to the wreaths.

 

 

The men and women usually celebrated separately, the only communication between them being the floating of the wreaths (rzucanie wiankow). Girls hoped that the young man of their dreams would find their wreath and then fall in love with them.

 

 

There is a Polish legend that says that the magical flower of the lowly forest fern (kwiat paproci) only blooms on this shortest night of the year. According to the legend, anyone finds this mysterious fern will be rewarded with great treasures. Fairy tales abound about young men who go off on this night, searching for the illusive fern flower.

Today, St. John's Eve festivals and parties include music and dancing, fireworks, boat floats, and bonfires, with men and women celebrating together. In Warsaw and Krakow and in other smaller towns along the Wisla River, you can still see candle-lit wreaths floating down the river on the night of June 23rd.


 

 

 


MATKI BOSKIEJ ZIELNEJ - OUR LADY OF THE FIELDS

 

 

As summer draws to an end in Poland, the feast day of Our Lady of the Fields (Matki Boskiej Zielnej) is celebrated on August 15th. This is also the feast day of the Assumption of Our Lady. People bring to church great bouquets made from branches, herbs, vegetables, and wheat, interwoven with a few flowers from the fields and gardens, which are blessed by the priest. These bouquets are carried home and kept until the following year. When there is sickness in the household, the herbs are brewed and used for medicinal purposes, not only for the people, but for the livestock as well. Wreaths are made on this day by young girls and also brought to church to be blessed and then they are proudly worn to attract young men during the picnics and festivals that follow the ceremonies in church.

 

 

 


DOZYNKI - HARVEST FESTIVAL

 

 

The Poles do not celebrate Thanksgiving in November the way we do in the United States. They celebrate the end of the harvest and thank God for the bounties of the land in September, as summer turns to fall and as the last fields are mown and harvested.

The symbol of Dozynki or the Harvest Festival is a large wreath made of a number of grains, the ones considered most important to the harvesters, usually wheat and rye. The wreath was made in the shape of a domed crown and decorated with flowers, ribbons, hazelnuts, and the fruit of the mountain ash tree. Holy pictures or icons were sometimes added (see photo).

The wreaths were made by farmers and landowners and brought to church to be blessed during the Harvest Mass. Everyone dressed in their finest folk costumes for the Mass and young maidens vied to be the ones selected for the honor of wearing a smaller version of the dozynki wreath on their heads. A procession accompanied the wreaths to church, which were either carried or placed in horse-drawn wagons, also decorated with ribbons and greenery. After Mass, a harvest feast was prepared and everyone joined in the celebrations that sometimes lasted for a few days. Music, singing, and dancing accompanied the festivities, as everyone rejoiced that the work of the harvest was done and that the food and grains were now in storage for the long winter season ahead.

The dozynki wreaths were taken home after the celebration and hung in a prominent place in the home, such as in an entrance hall, above a chest of drawers, or above the door of the main living room as a symbol of prosperity.

 

 

 

 

NOVEMBER IN POLAND

 

The biggest holiday in Poland of the autumn season is All Saints' Day called Wszystkich Swietych, celebrated on NOVEMEBR 1st.

 

 

All Saints' Day is a holy day which has been celebrated in Poland and the rest of the Catholic world for many centuries. All Saints' Day is a national holiday in Poland, and a day when people visit the graves of loved ones and place candles and flowers on their graves. Abandoned graves are also decorated with candles and flowers. If a family has moved away or no family members are able to be present, neighbors will make sure that no grave is forgotten. On this day, all of the dead are to be remembered and honored. The special votive candles, which can burn for many hours, are placed on the graves so that departed souls can find their way through the darkness and flowers, usually mums, are placed so that the dead know that they live on in the memories of the those they left behind. Cemeteries are lit by many hundreds of these candles and at night they can be seen glowing from long distances as darkness descends. Many Poles travel from far and wide to visit family graves on that day and to honor the dead. The holiday is also sometimes known as the Day of the Dead, Dzien Zmarlych.

The next day, November 2nd is All Souls' Day, or Zaduszki, when the church prays for all departed souls, not only the souls of the saints, but also of those who are still in purgatory. Cemeteries and churches are visited on this day as well.

In recent years, Halloween, which originally was a Celtic holiday, has made an appearance in Poland with children donning costumes and attending parties on October 31st, but the true celebration of the dead in Poland continues to be on November 1st and 2nd when millions of people from all around the country criss-cross the nation to visit the graves of their loved ones. The smell of burning candles wafts across the breadth and the width of Poland and cemeteries are ablaze at night-you can see the glow in the night sky wherever you look.

November 11th is Polish Independence Day and it is the second national holiday in Poland-the first one is Constitution Day celebrated on May 3rd. November 11th is the day that Poland regained its freedom after 123 years of partition by its powerful neighbors, the superpowers of the time: Russia, Prussia, and Austria. November 11th is the same date that the Armistice was signed ending World War I between Germany and the Allies. Poles celebrate both of their national holidays with pride. For a nation that was not free for a large part of its history, it is now happy to celebrate its political freedom with great passion and pride-on both of its national holidays.


 

 


POLISH WEDDING TRADITIONS

 

 

May and June are months of weddings and many Polish American brides like to incorporate some Polish traditions into their own weddings. We often get asked to publish some of the common Polish wedding customs. There are, of course, many different traditions and they vary from region to region and from city to village. Country weddings in Poland are often three-day affairs with all the neighbors as well as family members joining in the festivities. In Polish towns and cities weddings are becoming more elegant and smaller and are being held in hotels and restaurants rather than in the bride's home.
Regardless of whether the wedding will be large or small, held in a Polish village or an American city, it is undoubtedly the most important celebration in a couple's lifetime. It is a joyful occasion for both families and for both sets of friends and couples usually go all out in planning the day. They try to add meaning to the festivities by writing their own vows and by adding special traditions from their own families or ethnic backgrounds.
Parents' Blessing
The "wesele" or wedding in Poland began with the groom arriving with his groomsmen at the house of the bride. They would wait outside while the bridesmaids helped the bride to dress and get ready. Guests would also arrive at the bride's house shortly before the church ceremony. Musicians would be playing as the guests arrived and everyone waited for the bride to appear. People gathered at the home of the bride in order to accompany the bridal couple to church, but also to witness the blessing and symbolic farewells of the bride with her parents, relatives, and friends. The blessing by the parents was sometimes seen as more meaningful than the church ceremony itself! After the couple received the parents' blessing, everyone stood in a circle around them as the bride's mother sprinkled them with holy water. The blessings were so important that if a mother or father had died, the wedding party would stop at the cemetery where the groom or bride prayed at the deceased parent's grave before going on to church.
The trip to the church took place in various ways, with the bride and groom usually riding in separate wagons. Several wagons pulled by stately horses and filled with guests dressed in their Sunday best and with bouquets of flowers, followed the lead wagon on which a driver stood, cracking his whip for everyone to get out of his way. Behind him were a fiddler and other musicians playing merry tunes. Behind the lead wagon, on horseback, rode the master of ceremonies, the Starosta. Everyone sang: the bridesmaids, the groomsmen, the musicians, as well as the drivers.
During the church ceremony it was expected of the bride to cry. If she didn't, it was believed that she would be unhappy and cry throughout her married life. After the ceremony, the bride sometimes threw handfuls of straw on the young boys and girls who followed the wedding party. Whoever caught the straw was prophesied to marry before the others. Another belief was that whichever of the bridesmaids touched the bride or her wreath first after the ceremony would marry that same year.
Greeting with Bread and Salt
When the newlyweds, followed by the wedding party and invited guests, finally arrived at the Dom Weselny, the house where the wedding feast would take place, they found the door closed to them. The Starosta (best man or master of ceremonies) would have to sing a song asking for the door to be opened to the young couple. The young couple was most often greeted at the entrance of the house by both sets of parents with bread and salt. Salt had equal footing with bread in all family customs from birth to death. It was believed that salt had the power to heal and cleanse, to uncover evil and thieves, to protect houses against fire, dispel storms and hail, and to drive away evil spirits.
In Polish American weddings, the parents of the bride and groom often greet the young couple with bread and salt as they enter the banquet hall where the reception will be held. A loaf of bread and a small ramekin of salt should be placed on a tray covered with a white linen cloth. The bride and groom break off a piece of the bread and dip it in the salt while the parents greet and bless them. A glass of wine is sometimes added to the greeting and the couple take a sip of it as well.
"Oczepiny"
Towards the end of the reception, the most important wedding custom of all takes place: the "Oczepiny" or the Unveiling and Capping Ceremony. It is documented all the way back to the 16th century and represents the rite of passage-from young girl to married woman. All the single women at the reception circle the bride as the maid of honor stands behind her and removes the veil from her head as music is played. A married woman then has the responsibility of pinning a married woman's "cap" on the head of the bride as all the married women present at the reception form a circle around her. At this moment, the bride is officially considered a married woman! Sometimes after the unveiling, the bride will toss the veil rather than the bouquet to the single women or she will give her veil to the maid of honor. The cap was usually a gift to the bride from her godmother. The cap was reserved for special occasions and worn to church, for folk festivals and weddings, and, at the end of a married woman's life, she was buried wearing the cap from her wedding day.

The Apron Dance
The Polish Bridal Dance has become an American tradition for the descendants of immigrants from Poland and other Slavic countries. The last dance at a Polish American wedding, before the bride and groom leave, is usually reserved for the bride and is called the "Pani Mloda" or Bridal Dance. It is also sometimes called the Money Dance or the Apron Dance. All the guests at the reception line up for a last chance to dance with the bride and to donate money to the newly wed couple. The money is placed by each guest into an apron, which is held by the bride's father before dancing with the bride. The Starosta (master of ceremonies) keeps the line moving, allowing everyone only a few spins with the bride before cutting in for the next guest's chance to dance. After each guest has danced with the bride, she or he receives a drink and a piece of the freshly cut wedding cake.
After the final guest completes his dance with the bride, the groom takes his turn. Then he throws his wallet into the apron, takes his bride and the apron, and they leave together to start their new life!

 

About Us Membership Benefits Financial Protection Upcoming Events
Youth Members Glos Polek Request Info Contact Us What's New?

Toll Free: (888) 522-1898 • Phone (847) 384-1200
© 2002-2012 Polish Women's Alliance of America. All rights reserved.| Privacy Statement
Webmaster: Magdalena Stefanek