Easter (pl. Wielkanoc) is the most important annual religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. As that, in its core it’s not very different from the standard way of celebrating Easter around the world. There are, though, some interesting Polish traditions that stand out.
For starters, there are written eggs (pisanki). Easter is associated with colorful eggs, now usually chocolate, but in Poland, they take a form of art, and still are the same old chicken eggs as always. Decorated by several different techniques by young and old alike, they’re the main dish during the Easter breakfast, and the main decoration on the table.
The eggs are decorated with many traditional Polish symbols of Easter. Most popular are lamb, cross, floral designs or Easter’s greetings such as “Wesollego Alleluja”. They can be decorated by “writing” on them with hot wax, then coloring and scrubbing off the wax to reveal pale designs on the shell (hence the name “written eggs”). It can also be done the other way – coloring the egg first, and then etching a design in the paint. Eggs painted like this are still edible, as the paints are food-friendly, or even ARE food – because boiling the eggs in onion shells or in beetroots will give them a beautiful color, too. Other way to decorete the eggs is to glue colorful paper, fabric, or even things like tiny beads or wool on them!
In the old days, you could bail yourself out of getting soaked during the Wet Monday (see below) with a pretty written egg, but nowadays this tradition is quite forgotten, replaced with many and various contests to chose the most beautiful Easter egg.
Some of the eggs are prepared earlier than for the Easter Sunday breakfast, though. Święconka (the Blessing Basket) is one of the most enduring and beloved Polish traditions. On Saturday people take to churches decorated baskets containing a sampling of traditional food to be blessed. This tradition stems from the belief that the Great Lent, which is the forty day fast before Easter, is not over until the basket has been blessed. This food is not to be eaten before the breakfast in the Sunday morning.
The Sunday morning is the most important part of the Easter. Families wake up early and gather to eat the breakfast together (just after – or before, depending on the tradition – the children find the sweets and small gifts the Easter bunny had hid for them around the house!). It’s a meal as important as the dinner on Christmas Eve, and consists mostly of similar foods like in the Blessing Basket: colored (written) eggs, cold meats, coils of sausages, ham, yeast cakes, pound cakes, poppy-seed cakes, and a lamb made of sugar. The Polish soup called żurek or white barszcz is also a traditional part of this meal, usually garnished with the hard-boiled eggs and sausage. The foods from the Blessing Basket, mostly the eggs, are shared among the family members along with wishes for good health and happiness.
It might look like the Easter ends on Sunday, but in Poland, it’s not like that! There’s still the Wet Monday (Lany Poniedziałek), usually called “Śmingus Dyngus”. It’s a tradition to sprinkle (or even soak!) with water everybody you meet on this day. This origins from a way for boys to have a better look at girls when they’re wet and clothes or makeup can’t correct their looks, to choose the best and prettiest candidate for a wife. Other sources say that soaking with water was supposed to clean you off the old winter and purificate off any diseases. Today, though, it’s mostly the children who use water baloons and water guns to have fun, although some people say that by being splashed with water on Easter Monday will bring you good luck throughout the year.
As with all holidays, though, Easter too comes to an end. After weeks-long carnival, forty days of Lent, and seven days of the Holy Week, the celebrations are over, and supposedly, the spring finally comes. Will it be like that this year, too?
Pilgrimage to Poland