Easter and Christmas

EASTER HOLIDAYS

 Easter (Wielkanoc – Great Night) is celebrated in Poland according to Catholic tradition whith a reflection on the old pagan beliefs and traditions. In Poland we celebrate traditionally with family, following various customs and traditions. The feast lasts for two days (Sunday and Monday). It was once very important not only for religious reasons but also…. culinary. After months of fasting and hunger it was a culinary carnival during which people enjoyed a lot of tasty sausages and cakes. The obligatory cake for Easter was “baba” (a yeast cake) and traditional recipe for wealthier families ordered to take no less than 60 eggs for preparation.

To this day one of the customs which survived is the celebration of the Easter Palm at Palm Sunday (a week before Easter). Formerly it was believed that Palms are to protect people, animals and farms against witchcrafts and evils. There is rivalry about who produced the highest and the most beautiful palm. Good Friday is a day of a strict fast, and on Saturday people (mostly children) walk into the church with the so-called  “święconka” (see photo) – a traditional small basket filled with food: eggs, smoked bacon, salt, pepper, horseradish, bread and cakes. Beautifully decorated basket (traditionally lined with a white linen or lace napkin and decorated with sprigs of boxwood) is there blessed by the priest. (This tradition is present also in some parts of Austria and Germany.)

Easter Sunday

Very religious people begin Easter Sunday by participating in a Mass, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Others or non-believers start the day with traditional Easter breakfast, which obligatory component are beautifully decorated eggs. This is not originally Polish habit, but in Poland decorating eggs is a great artistic tradition. Eggs are painted or etched in many different patterns, and folk artists can create true works of art.            

Traditional Polish Easter morning dishes are:  żurek (soup), white sausage, ham, eggs and horseradish. Sweetness are represented by the Easter yeast cake, cheesecake and mazurka (rectangular or round shape cake covered with various types of mass and delicacies). Indispensable decoration of the table is a lamb or Easter bunny made of sugar or a special cake. During Easter gifts can be given to children, so called “a bunny”.

Photos belowżurek and orange mazurek.

Easter Monday: śmigus-dyngus

 On this day people soak each other with water. This custom refers to the old pagan beliefs. The old Slavs attributed this tradition to ensure health and fertility, water symbolized also the joy of the coming spring. After the adoption of Christianity in some regions, early in the morning, hosts sprinkled their fields with holy water. This custom has survived in the southern Poland. Soaking women with water was the custom of village people, but had been also adopted by courts – in this case water had been replaced by perfume. Most men make fun in sprinkling cold water on women who are still in bed. Ladies do not remain defenseless however, keeping buckets with water under their bed. Sometimes it is better not to go out that day, because of hordes of young men rampanging on the streets with buckets of water. Generally, besides participating in religious aspect, Easter is a day of family and social visits and recreation.

CHRISTMAS

Christmas begins in Poland on December 24 in the evening and lasts for two days, which are holidays free from work. On this occasion family (sometimes several people) gather to celebrate Christmas.  The most important moment is a Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas Eve is the most awaited by children, because it is this day, after dinner, when the gifts are given. For adults, outside the religious aspect, this is also a moment of reconciliation and submission of the wishes of prosperity. Christmas is so deeply rooted in Polish tradition that it is celebrated also by non-believers. Even in homes of atheists it is common to have Christmas trees and gifts, prepare Christmas Eve dinner and listen to popular carols.

Traditions associated with the Christmas Eve

  • The first star – it’s appearance in the sky gives a signal to start the ceremonial dinner.
  • Christmas table – an extra place will be set at the table for an unexpected guest. According to Polish tradition it is obligatory to accommodate a homeless person, because on Christmas Eve no one should be alone. It is desirable to have an even number of people by the table. Under the tablecloth hay should be placed as a symbol of poverty of Jesus (the length of the blades indicates which maiden will get married first). In old Poland, before Christmas tree became popular, a wheat sheaf was erected in the corner as a symbol of prosperity and future fertility.

  • Christmas wafer – an essential part of Christmas Eve dinner, a symbol of Christian unity and reconciliation. Just before dinner its participants share their piece with other people, making them good wishes. In the evening hosts share it with animals. There is a strong belief (unfortunately, not confirmed by reliable facts), that on Christmas Eve animals can talk!

  • Christmas Eve and Christmas dishes – tradition dictates that there must be twelve dishes on the Christmas Eve table and everybody must try them. These are generally fasting dishes. Each region has its own culinary traditions, but the most typical dishes include fish (fried carp, carp in aspic, herring), soup (beetroot soup, mushroom, fish), cabbage (with mushrooms or peas), dried fruit compote. It also can not miss poppy (to ensure as much wealth as a poppy grain in a poppy head), honey and nuts. The typical Polish Christmas cake is a poppy-seed cake and gingerbread. In eastern Poland very popular is kutia, which is made of poppy seeds and boiled wheat with honey, nuts and raisins.

 

     beetroot soup with “uszka”         

fried carp with potato

 

                          cabbage with peas               

 poppy-seed cake

  • gifts – kept under the Christmas tree and given after the Christmas Eve dinner.
  • Christmas Carols – very popular in Poland Christmas religious hymns of more or less exalted character. In many families they are sung in the family circle after supper, less musical groups listen to CDs or TV performances.
  • pasterka – a solemn Midnight Mass. In many Polish regions, such as mountains, people go to the church dressed in traditional regional costumes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgnJMGRHllE&feature=related  – highlander’s Pasterka in Żabnica performed by local folk enembles

December 25/26

It is a time of rest, the submission of family visits, participating in the masses and eating delicacies. As in many other countries, during the Christmas houses are decorated with Christmas trees, which were popularized here in the 19th century. Originally decorated by fruits, nuts and hand made ornaments, some made of en empty egg shell. The mistletoe is hung also, which is a custom adopted from the English.

At the holiday season it is popular in villages to visiting houses by so called “kolędnicy” –- a group of young people disguised as Herod, a Jew, Soldier, Death, Devil and Old Man, who perform a scene of Herod’s death and exile him to hell. There are also “kolędnicy” visiting houses with a star, Turoń (animal looking like monster) and a goat.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPcEjfzENV0&feature=related – kolędnicy

The most beautiful holidays are associated with mountains – lost in the snowy villages or mountains, brilliantly lit churches are the most popular theme of the Polish Christmas cards.

Renata Głuszek

 Photo: Renata Głuszek, Katarzyna Olczak, Vikipedia