Polish Easter Traditions

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April 19, 2011 by Knight Errant

We all know what Easter looks like and why we celebrate it every year. There are, however, many traditions few people know about, and even more we don’t completely understand. Here are some of the well known and some of the dusty traditions You may find interesting.

Many symbols representing Easter (as well as spring, for that matter) common in our country come from pagan traditions, because they’ve been adapted by the Catholic Church. The simplest example there can be – an egg – which was a symbol of nature reborn and the birth of new life. It soon began representing resurrection and from this time on became an inseparable element of every year celebration. We can find them everywhere – from our homes to supermarket billboards on the streets.

A fact that may not be obvious to all of You is that a decorated egg is called an Easter Egg and can appear in many forms. They can be painted with almost any kind of paint in almost any shape and color (yet the most popular are spring, colorful and geometric motives). Boiled with a pigment (natural or not) they can be scratched with a needle in patterns reminding a lace. They can be waxed and then painted, or boiled in the pigment when wrapped into a piece of tights with some interesting leaves (which leave a pale shape on a colored egg). A common tradition is to share a piece of egg over the Easter Table, not to mention that eggs can actually be eaten – but let’s finish this subject for now.

One week before Easter we celebrate Palm Sunday, when palms brought to church are consecrated. Exotic plants, however, aren’t used to create palms, like they were two thousand years ago. They are made of willow twigs, boxtree, catkins, flowers and colorful feathers. They are then taken home. In the past, they were used to hit family members (to bring them luck), and when left at home, they were supposed to protect the house and people within it.

The last Wednesday before Easter is (or at least was) famous for drowning Judas, a puppet made of old clothes and straw. It was first driven (wrapped with chains) throughout the village and beaten with sticks. It was then thrown into a pond, which was a rather brutal form of enforcing justice.

The Lent used to be associated with herring, a typical Lenten fare. In the beginning of the holiday, the fish was hung or nailed to a tree – as a form of punishment for not letting meat to the Lenten dinners (people didn’t eat meat for 40 days straight). A similar tradition is connected to sour rye soup – due to certain difficulties it wasn’t hung, but buried in the ground.

During the Holy Saturday we bring food to be consecrated – it is eaten before all other dishes on Sunday, during a festive breakfast. Unfortunately, the Saturday food consecration is becoming the only symbol of Easter for the people, who don’t live through it in a more spiritual way.

Easter Monday is a day adored by at least a half of our society. Unfortunately, pouring each other with water is becoming a rather dangerous tradition, sometimes leading not only to a cold, but sometimes even serious injuries, caused by water balloons falling from the 10th floor. That is why the other half of polish citizens could imagine a life without it. The tradition’s origin is a lot more innocent – boys used to pour girls they liked the most, which was supposed to give them a greater chance of getting married. Nowadays getting wet isn’t considered a special privilege…

Small children often look for small gifts left by the Easter Bunny. Sometimes all the members of the family give each other presents. Kids all over the world seek sweets hidden in their gardens, but that’s a different story. The gifts are supposed to bring more joy to our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

Every family probably celebrates the holiday in a bit different way than the rest of the world and it would be almost impossible to write down all of the variations. But is all that so important? I ask You, Dear Reader, to ask yourself a question: “In the times of commerce, consumption, computerization and space travel, do we still celebrate Easter like we should? Or is Jesus Christ only a distant symbol, mentioned once or twice during a family celebration…”

Knight Errant

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