Poland, being a Catholic country, has many traditions and ceremonies related to Easter and the periods surrounding it. The Easter period is preceded by Lent and associated events.
It all starts with Fat Thursday, at the end of the carnival, which people use as a last chance for feasting before the Lent period. Polish specialties that day are pączki, a special kind of donuts, often willed with rose or cherry jam, and angel wings, a type of deep-fried, sweet, crisp pastry.
A few days later, this is followed by Ash Wednesday, a Christian holy day, which marks the start of a 40 day lent. During this time people often make a ‘Lenten sacrifice’ – refraining from participating in certain pleasurable activities or giving up on luxuries, such as alcohol or candy. Fasting isn’t an uncommon practice either. Church-side, followers receive a cross mark on their foreheads, made from the ashes of palms burnt the previous year.
Palm Sunday, an event commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, takes place a week before Easter proper. This is celebrated by people sharing and having blessed palm branches. As in places like Poland palms don’t grow naturally, instead people create hand-crafted decorations – often very colorful, resembling palms. In many places this turns into a competition, with participants showing off their ‘palm trees’ which can often be many meters tall. Eventually (usually in winter) those are burnt, and ashes are used during the next year’s Ash Wednesday.
During Holy Week people prepare for Easter – they clean their houses, decorate them as well as make up with others. Maundy Thursday (Christ’s Last Supper) starts the period called Paschal Triduum (Passion, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ). Good Friday, in particular, is celebrated with processions to the Stations of the Cross, depicting Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. These are often shown as a big staging, with people walking around entire towns.
On Great Saturday we experience on of the more distinctive Polish traditions – the blessing of the Easter baskets. The baskets contain samplings of the Easter food – eggs, salt, pepper, bread, horseradish, as well as hand-made sugar figurines and cakes like babka wielkanocna (a type of sweet bread cake). The eggs are often hard-boiled and decorated in an elaborated way – those are called pisanki, with colorful pictures or patterns painted over them. Various other techniques like etching or burning might be used as well.
Easter Sunday ends the 40-day Lent with celebrating the resurrection of Christ. This is commemorated by a morning mass, together with a procession. At home, the main event is the official Easter breakfast, with traditional meals like mazurek (a type of very sweet short-cake), white kiełbasa (a type of sausage) or żurek, which is a type of a fermented cereal soup. This time is spent together with family. The table is often decorated with flower or pussy willow.
Easter Monday, which is also a public holiday in Poland, has some distinctive traditions as well. Most notably Śmigus-dyngus (or lany poniedziałek, which translates to Wet Monday), which nowadays largely consists of throwing water over each other. Traditionally, it was boys chasing girls and throwing buckets of water over them, but currently there is no distinction as to who gets wet. Even strangers get sprinkled with water casually. This is in particular common among kids and teens. In some places it got to the point that the tradition is seen as a nuisance, especially during colder days.
The post Easter period is called Eastertide, and includes more important Catholic celebrations, such as Ascension (of Christ).
Text and pictures: Przemyslaw K.