It’s around that time when chocolate Easter eggs start flooding the shops, bunnies and chicks adorn row-upon-row of cards, and the countdown begins. In just a few weeks, we will enjoy one of the UK’s most popular holidays- Easter. Like most British people, I love the Easter break- what’s not to love? A few days off work, hot cross buns and lots and lots of chocolate. I worry, however, that like our other holidays, it’s turned into an extremely commercial affair, and I found myself wondering how other countries will be celebrating- and one in particular- Poland. I recently found myself enjoying a conversation with a Polish friend about how she will be spending her Easter break at home in Poland, and was intrigued at how different it sounded from the British celebrations.
In the UK, our celebrations are mainly limited to Easter Sunday (known as Wielkanoc in Polish), however in Poland the festivities can last over a week- from Palm Sunday to Wet Monday. The first sign of Easter approaching in Poland is a large number of branches and dried flowers being brought to churches. On Palm Sunday (Niedziela palmowa), exactly 7 days before the main celebrations take place, people gather for a procession with palms in their hands. They are usually artificial and made from branches of native trees, including box, willow, yew and olive. Some of the Polish villages and small towns even organize artificial palm competitions.
On Easter Saturday (Holy Saturday), the blessing of the Easter baskets takes place. It is one of the most important Polish traditions in the country, but also within Polish communities around the world. People prepare baskets of Easter food including eggs, bread, meat and butter, which are taken to church to be blessed, and then this food is eaten as a part of the Easter Sunday meal.
Breakfast on Holy Easter Sunday is very important, and is a traditional family affair. It starts with the sharing of the blessed food and families enjoy hard-boiled eggs and cold meats, and this Easter feast would be nothing without a traditional babka. This is a sweet yeast cake traditionally glazed with vanilla or chocolate icing which celebrates the return of the egg to the diet after the period of fasting. Another indispensable item is a cake in the form of a lamb to symbolize Christ.
To finish off the Polish Easter festivities is a rather fun day called Lany Poniedzialek (Wet Monday)
which is an ancient Polish tradition taking place on Easter Monday. Everyone takes part in the celebrations and the fun of spraying each other with water. Children enjoy it especially as I’m sure you can imagine- it sounds to me like one giant water fight! There is also a proverb that being splashed with water on Easter Monday, will bring good luck throughout the year.
Whilst British children all over the country are attending Easter-egg hunts and opening dozens of chocolate eggs, Polish children are taking part in the tradition of painting hard-boiled eggs- also known as pisanki. The eggs are decorated with many traditional Polish symbols which display the joy of Easter such as floral patterns, lambs and Easter's greetings such as Wesollego Alleluja (Happy Easter). They are then used as decoration for the Easter table. Interestingly, egg painting is encountered in several other Slavic cultures, and is thought to date back to talismanic pagan rituals that are over 5000 years old.
In Poland, Easter certainly isn’t as commercial as in the UK, and spending time with the family and enjoying food and drink seems to be the focus; however, there is a little room for presents for children. There is said to be a giant Easter bunny who travels from house to house hiding sweets in children’s rooms during the night before Holy Sunday.
Where will you be spending Easter this year? Have you ever taken part in any special celebrations in different countries over the Easter period?