Title: Reflections on a Very Non-Traditional Polish Easter
Title: Snowy Wrocław at Easter
Caption: My husband and I were in the Western city of Wroclaw (VROTS-wav) on Easter Sunday
I was really excited to spend Easter in Poland this year. As you know, my grandmother was raised in a Polish-American family, in Chicago, a city with a large Polish population. Then the snows came. After returning to Spain, I spent some time talking with Dominik (who you met this week) and my other students about their very cold Easter weekend. Some traditions were kept, and some were put off until next year.
Caption: Buying a Palm
Title: Pretty, isn’t it?
What tradition did I learn about?
“There are two things every Polish person must suffer from on Easter. A sore stomach and a sore rear end.” These words were said to Andrew and me by our taxi driver as we returned home from Lublin’s train station on Sunday. Like in America, all Polish holidays center on eating and talking with family members. But there are other very important things Polish people do at Easter.
On the Sunday before Easter, which is called Palm Sunday, most Polish people (who are Catholic, like in Spain) go to church. The week before Palm Sunday, you see buckets at the markets and on the streets full of colorful straw and flower creations called “palms.” People buy them and take them to decorate their churches. I bought a palm at the market before I left for Spain.
Title: Easter Eggs
Caption: Can you tell which ones are real?
Like in America, Polish people often decorate eggs for Easter. But these eggs are much more beautifully decorated than the eggs I dyed with my sisters. They are often painted with elaborate designs, and you can buy wooden ones if you want yours to last. I bought some eggs at the market so I can teach my future kids about Polish traditions.
The most important Polish Easter traditions happen Saturday through Monday. On Saturday, Polish families bring baskets of special food to be blessed by the local priest. My student Pati told me that they use the ingredients to make a kind of soup called borscht białe, or “white borscht.” Borscht is usually made with beets, but this one is made with rye flour, sausages and onion. My husband and I bought some sausages, and they tasted like ballpark bratwurst. While at church, families also sometimes go to pray over Jesus Christ’s “grave.” Some towns in Poland have processions on Good Friday, so there is often a statue or display at which they can say their prayers.
On Sunday, the families go to mass, and then eat the borscht and other foods with their families. Then they sit, because they have eaten too much, and because they must prepare for the fun on Monday. Monday in Poland is Śmigus-Dyngus (SHMEE-gus DING-us). Śmigus-Dyngus is a giant water fight. Polish people take water that has been blessed by the priest and throw it at each other! Before I left, my students were joking that this year they’d have to throw snow balls.
Caption: I found this picture online of last year’s Śmigus-Dyngus in Lublin (it was much warmer then)
When I got back, I asked my students about their Easter. Many of the inside traditions were kept, but many families did not go to church to get their food blessed. It’s customary to walk to church, but many other families drove. And Dyngus Day did not happen at all! I asked Dominik if he threw snowballs with his brothers and he said “No. It’s a shame. It was cold, but in Radom there wasn’t even enough snow to throw. So we stayed in side and watched television.”
Why does the community have this tradition?
When I asked my students, including Dominik about Śmigus-Dyngus, they told me that they celebrate the holiday because it is a symbol for washing one’s sins away. Some Polish families also clean their houses on this day. Usually, the Monday after Easter is the start of true spring in Poland, so it’s a great time to clean out the dust and grime of the old year and start over again!
Other Polish traditions have a lot to do with community. In the past, many Polish people lived in villages. Holidays like Easter are times at which the community can get together and celebrate what they have in common with each other. Family members often lived close, and could spend a lot of time with each other.
Is this tradition connected to its environment? How?
Easter is both a religious holiday and a celebration of the spring solstice. Traditions like cooking special food have both Christian and pagan roots. For example, Pati told me that some of the Easter foods symbolize fertility. Spring is all about planting things and watching them grow. In the past, Polish people used Easter to express their hopes for a good harvest in the fall.
It seems today like some Polish Easter traditions may be going away. When I asked my students if they were disappointed that the weather got in the way of their celebrations, most said they didn’t mind. Like in my own family, holidays in Poland seem to be more and more about eating a lot of food and sitting with whichever family members can come, than continuing old traditional practices. I don’t think this is a good thing or a bad thing. Like the rest of the world, Poland is changing and not just because of weird wintery weather!