Nowadays, Polish Easter traditions vary from household to household, just like they differ a bit when compared in different times in history. Still, this being one of the most important celebrations of Christianity, and an interesting feast with lots of traditions, it is loved and celebrated both by people who declare themselves as non-believers, to those who go to church regularly. Here are some of the Easter traditions that you will most likely come across in any Polish home.
Easter in Christianity celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and as such, it is one of the most important feasts. Its date is movable, as it is always celebrated on a Sunday - in Catholicism, the first one after the first full moon in spring (which means that it falls sometime between 21st March to 25th April). The sole period of Easter begins 40 days before the Easter Sunday, on a day called Ash Wednesday. This is where lent begins, commemorating the 40 days that Christ had spent in the desert tempted by the Devil. During this time, people restrain from entertainment and parties, some restrain on food, and all of this leads up to the Good Friday, the day that Christ is believed to have died.
The Polish word for Easter is Wielkanoc (which translates roughly to The Big Night). The week before the Easter Sunday is marked with numerous celebrations and is called the Holy Week, marking the death of Jesus Christ, while the Sunday before the Easter Sunday is called Palm Sunday. The belief is that it was the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey and then a colt.
On Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, people go to church to bless palm branches from palm trees. Jesus was greeted by people waving palm leaves at him so this tradition is an homage to that moment. The branches are then kept in households for good luck. In the modern days, there are even competitions held for making the most beautiful palm.
The day before the Good Friday and the Easter Sunday is a day of preparation - Holy Saturday. People put together baskets with food to be blessed in the morning. These baskets usually include hard boiled eggs, a lamb made of sugar, bread, salt, horseradish and cold meat, as well as a traditional cake. Because of that, Easter breakfast is the most important meal of the celebration, eaten after the Sunrise Service, among the immediate family. The blessed foods from the basket are the first to be shared. This breakfast is also rich in hot dishes, like the traditional żurek (sour rye soup) and cakes for dessert. Although there is no custom of giving gifts to small children like there is for Christman, kids are often given chocolate bunnies. Some families do chose to gift small presents for the occasion. There is also a game that is played at the table - cracking eggs! Family members compete with cracking eats - the one whose hard boiled Easter egg is shattered the last, is the winner!
Easter Monday is also known in Poland as Śmigus-dyngus (or Wet Monday). It falls on the very first Monday after Easter Sunday. It is one of the Easter traditions most loved by children, as you’re supposed to splash other people you come across that day with water - the first one to splash the other is the winner! This tradition takes back from pagan customs in relation to the spring awakening, but also as a form of courtship among young people.
Easter eggs are one of the most important traditions of the Polish Easter. They symbolize new life and birth and have been a part of the celebrations even from the pagan times. The word pisanki comes from the Polish word meaning “to write”, as they are not just common eggs served at Easter, but beautifully decorated eggs made specially for the occasion. There are different techniques you can use to create your own beautiful Easter eggs, not only by writing on them with wax, as is done traditionally - there is also decoupage, and simple coloring and using stickers that you can go for. The key is to be the most creative, so even though spring motifs are the most common, you can go for your own designs. To learn more about the Easter eggs art, watch the video below:
Polish Easter is truly a lovely tradition that brings the whole family together. So if you have never celebrated Easter in this way, try it out this year! It’s filled with little traditions that you can easily follow in the comfort of your own home or you can find a Polish Catholic church and experience the blessing of the palms as well.