A Growing List of Polish
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St. Nicholas Day
St. Stephen's Day
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Three Kings KMB initials
Dyngus (Easter Monday)
All Soul's Day
List of Polish Holidays Szopka (Christmas creche)
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Dyngus Day ~ Buffalo
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[More on Szopka]
Launching her candle lit wianka at dusk in hopes it will find its way to the man of her dreams.
You'd be hard pressed to find many secular holidays, celebrations or significant cultural customs when it comes to the observance of Polish customs.
Poles are fun lovers who enjoy festivities, traditions and centuries-old Polish customs. The most ancient rituals, especially those dating back to pagan times, have long lost their magical character, becoming a colorful vestige of the past and a form of amusement. [See for example Sobótka] Links with tradition are felt the strongest during the greatest religious feasts, such as Christmas, Easter, Corpus Christi processions and All Saints' Day.
St. Andrzejki Day Rituals
Not diamonds, but picket fences, melted candle wax and walnut shells are a girls best friend on this special night. November 29th - just before the full moon is the Eve of St. Andrew's Day (St. Andrzejki Day). This is a special time for young Polish girls who want to find a husband. On this night and the next day, fortunes are told and the results are not taken lightly.
Here are a few ways that fortunes are told:
The most popular way is by melting wax and pouring it into a bowl of cold water. Wax is then picked up from the water, raised to the light, and the girls try to see the similarities of it to real objects.
Depending on the shapes, fortunes are told for the following year. If nothing meaningful comes up, there is always a chance that a girl will dream of something important dealing with her future, that night - but only if she could remember it.
In another traditional Polish customs way of fortune telling, girls stand in a circle leaning over a bowl of water with a small floating walnut shell containing a tiny-lighted candle. Each girl pastes a slip of paper with the name of a favored young man on the inside edge of the bowl above the water. To whichever name the lighted candle sailed to and burnt, a marriage proposal from him could be expected.
Also, during the day, a girl counts to the fourteenth post on a fence to see what her future husband will look like - fat, thin, short, tall, old, young. In another game, a scarf, a ribbon, and a rosary are placed separately under three plates. A girl, her eyes blindfolded, turns around three times while other girls rearrange the plates. If she draws a scarf, it means marriage; a ribbon - single for another year; rosary - becomes a spinster or a nun.
So, for all the girls who participated in this ritual - we hope your dreams come true.
PS - St. Andrew was an apostile, brother to Peter. It is generally agreed that he was crucified by order of the Roman Governor, Aegeas, at Patrae in Achaia, and that he was bound, not nailed, to the cross, in order to prolong his sufferings. The cross on which he suffered is commonly held to have been the decussate cross (looks like a "X"), now known as St. Andrew's Cross.
St. Barbara Feast - Miner's Day
One of the most time honored professions in Poland was that of mining. Through the centuries going deep under the earth was dangerous and often deadly. Although there is no caste system, Poland miners traditionally have been elevated to a special social station of their own. Not only for
the Feast of St. Barbara, but also for weddings, funerals and other important political or social ceremonies, miners wear an especially smart looking black uniform adorned with red feathers. For a facinating article about the miners and their patron's feast [Click Here].
Sw. Mikolaj - St. Nicholas Day
If you're over in Poland during the month of December, you probably won't find any presents under the Christmas tree. The reason: Traditionally, Christmas trees are not displayed until they are put up on Christmas Eve Day, and Jolly St. Nick brought the kids presents on his namesake day, December 6th.
St. Nick over in Poland does a much better job keeping a list of who's naughty or nice. "Rozga" is a little something that might show up from St. Nick's bag of goodies for children that do not behave they way they are expected to throughout the year. It is (similar to a cane) made from a limb from the birch tree and used for corporal punishment. The naughtier kids are the bigger the "rozga" will be.
It is not to say presents aren't also given on Christmas Eve (rather than the typical American Christmas Day). Since St. Nick brings presents a couple weeks before Christmas in Polish customs style, usually God's helpers are responsible for bringing gifts on Christmas Eve. In Wielkopolska (the Poznan and West-Central region) the Starman - a man with a "gwiazdor" (star) brings the gifts to the children. The tradition of starman predates the tradition of Santa Claus.
In Little Poland and Silesia a small "aniolek" (angel) who is a messenger for the baby Jesus brings presents to kids on Christmas Eve. The small angel is invisible, but the angel's presence is signalized by the sound of a ringing bell, and a moment later - the presents magically appear.
A Polish Christmas
Wesołych Świąt! Bożego Narodzenia! That is the way to say "Merry Christmas" in Polish. Polish Christmas Carols or koledy are numerous and beautiful, especially when sung in Polish parishes at the Christmas Eve Mass. This Mass is called the Pasterka, which means the Shepherds Watch, and there is popular belief in Poland that while the congregation is praying, peace descends on the snow-clad earth and that during that holy night, the humble companions of men - the domestic animals - assume voices. But only the innocent of heart may hear them.
Christmas Day itself in the traditional Polish custom is spent in rest, prayer, and visits to various members of the family. In Poland, from Christmas Day until the twelfth night, boys trudge from village to village with an illuminated star and sing carols. In some districts, the boys carry on puppet shows called shopky. These are built like a little house with two towers, open in the front where a small crib is set and before which marionettes sing their dialogues.
During the Christmas season, the theaters give special performances. On the feast of the Epiphany, the priest and the organist visit the homes, bless them and write over their doors the initials of the three wise men - KMB (Kasper, Melchior and Balthazar) - in the belief that this will spare the homes from misfortune.
The Christmas season closes on February 2, known as Candlemas Day. On that day, people carry candles to church and have them blessed for use in their homes during storms, sickness and death. Mary became ritually clean and could again enter the Temple 40 days after giving birth according to Jewish law. [More Info]
We asked a Polish polling center, to reach into their archives to find some revealing information about the habits and rituals of the average Pole at Christmas time. There are strong ties to tradition, religion, and family. Here's a look at Wigilia which to Americans is known as Christmas Eve:
Sharing the Christmas opłatek (opłatki plural)is observed by 99 percent in Poland. (The waffers, which each participant holds out so the others around the table may take a bit of it like communion)
Eating traditional Christmas Eve dishes happens in 98 percent of the homes. Just behind these traditions come decorating the Christmas tree, fasting on Christmas Eve until dinner and preparing an additional place at the Christmas table for an unexpected guest - which we will discuss in a little more detail in a moment.
Putting hay beneath the tablecloth is still practiced by 61%. The least important thing for Poles is dressing up as Santa Claus - only 36% see someone dressed like St. Nick.
Another element of the Polish Christmas Eve is the custom of visiting the graves of deceased relatives. The survey said this was important for 75% of Poles. For 68 percent of the nation, it is important to sing Christmas carols.
Here's a little more about the importance of the empty seat at the table. Nearly all Polish families prepare the extra place. And, nearly a third invite a poor or lonely person to share Wigelia.
The patriotic duty to remember people who are in exile or far from home, has its roots in Polish hospitality -- and in times when Poland lay divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. Keeping a space open pays tribute to these loved ones. The first casualties of French soldiers from Napoleon's failed winter attack on Russia retreated to many of these open seats two centuries ago as unexpected guests. And, were well cared for by Poles.
Opłatek History & Background
Sharing of opłatek was, and still is the core and essence of Christmas Eve celebration throughout Poland. Opłatek is essentially an unconsecrated bread wafer of the type used during Holy Communion. It has been suggested that the sharing of this bread wafer at the wigilia table is a modification of what was once the sharing of ritual bread called podplomyk.
This was a thin, flat bread traditionally baked before placing the loaves of bread dough in the oven. The baking of this first bread was not a chance happening, but an absolute responsibility. The housewife shaped this thin bread on a flat surface and, scraped aside the glowing embers of the flames, giving its name - "before the flames."
To easily break this bread into parts after baking, the housewife made heavy marks of a checkerboard pattern across the top. This bread baked quickly, with bubbles on he top. It was eaten not only by the inhabitants of the house but was also sent to friendly neighbors. The appearance of this bread in conjunction with the oplatek gave rise to the conjecture that it was an early form of the bread wafer.
In Poland, the bread wafer was known from the time of Christianity, but used only during Holy Mass. By the 15th century, the bread wafers were being made on a larger scale for popular use.
Wafers were used as snacks with wine, as a seal for letters, and for making Christmas decorations called swiaty. Developing simultaneously with the spread of wafers was the art of iron engraving. Rectangular shaped irons, the insides engraved with various religious motifs, were used to emboss scenes on the wafer. The dough was poured on one side, the other half closed over, and the iron held over a fire until the wafer was baked.
Over time, the responsibility of making and distributing the bread wafer was taken by the church organist, who received a small payment. White bread wafers were made for human consumption and other colors like pink for animals.
[Much More About Polish Christmas]
St. Stephen's Day
The Christmas Day, called the first holiday by the Poles, is spent with family at home. There is no visiting, no cleaning, no cooking on that day, only previously cooked food is heated.
St. Stephen's Day in Polish customs is known as the second holiday. This is a day for visiting and expressing Christmas greetings. And when night begins to fall, you can hear stamping and jingling, and then Christmas carol singing outside. These are carolers--Herody, who began their wandering from home to home. Herody is a popular form of caroling and this is a live performance usually, done by twelve young boys.
Dressed in special costumes they are: King Herod, field marshal, a knight, a soldier, an angel, a devil, death, a Jew, Mary, shepherds, sometimes Three Kings and an accordionist. They sing pastoral songs, carols, and when let into the house, play scenes from King Herod's life. Oration and songs vary and depend on to whom they are addressed--to the owner of the house, to a young girl about to be married, to a widow, etc. At the conclusion, they are offered refreshments and some money. No less popular is caroling with a Szopka--and with a star. Usually, those are carried by three caroling teenagers. They too are given some money.
[More on Szopky]
Some time ago, caroling began on St. Stephen's Day and lasted until February 2, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Mother. Today it lasts until January 6, the Feast of Three Kings, saying then, goodbye to a merry season.
Christmas Polish Vocabulary
Here are some other Polish words describing a host of Christmas related things:
GWIAZDKA - another name for Christmas (literally: Little Star, a reference to the star of Bethlehem)
ZLÓBEK, SZOPKA, STAJENKA - different names
for a Christmas crib, creche or nativity set
CHOINKA - Christmas tree
LAMPKI CHOINKOWE - Christmas-tree lights.
WIECZERZA WIGILIJNA - Christmas Eve supper
PREZENTY, and PODARKI - gifts, presents
KOLEDA - Christmas carol
PASTERKA - Midnight Mass
WIECZÓR SYLWESTROWY - New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve ~ Sylwester
In Poland New Year's Eve is known as St. Sylvester's Eve. This name according to legends arose from Pope Sylvester I who was supposed to have imprisoned a dragon called Leviathan who was supposedly able to escape on the first day of the year 1000, devour the land and the people, and was suppose to have set fire to the heavens. On New Year's Day, when the world did not come to an end, there was great rejoicing and from then on this day was called St Sylvester's Eve.
New Year's Eve in the city in Poland is celebrated at more or less formal balls. Some of them have a long-lasting tradition. For example the ball at the Warsaw Philharmonic Society, or the sportsmen's ball, is attended by "the man of the year". And, a New Year's Eve ball always begins with a polonaise.
In the country, New Year's Eve day has traditionally been an occasion to commit pranks of all kinds. It was not unusual for the village jokesters to disassemble somebody's wagon and reassemble it on the roof of a house, or to smear windows and door knobs with tar. In the Zywiec region for example, groups of boys disguised as devils, Gypsies and beggars scour the village, and with the earsplitting rattling of empty cans they would accost any young woman they come across and knock her down in snow. All the tricks are forgiven for they are believed to be ousting the old passing year.
One important characteristic of New Year's Day was bread-baking. Different animals were shaped from the dough - sheep, rabbits, geese, cows. Godparents often gave these bread animals with best wishes to godchildren as presents. In some areas of Poland paczki or donuts were baked to assure wealth for the whole year. Bread in the shapes of a ring, a cross or a child were hidden at the dinner table and used for fortune telling. If someone found a ring, marriage awaited. A cross - entry into clergy. And a child - that meant a child out of wedlock.
Other traditions include: those who wake up early on New Year's Day will wake up early for the rest of the year. Those who touched the floor with the right foot when getting up from bed could expect a lot of good luck the whole year. And those who wanted to get rich had to put change in a small bag and run through the fields shaking the bag and making a lot of noise.
Feast Of the Three Kings
The initials K M B for Kaspar, Melchior and Baltazer, with a cross between them, are written in chalk at the top of entrance doors of Polish homes.
In more remote areas like the mountainous regions where the local parish priest is not able to travel to every home, people brought chalk to church on this day to be blessed. Returning home, they wrote the initials themselves, not to be disturbed until the following year.
These initials, along with the palms from Palm Sunday and blessed candles from Candlemas Day, were a united force to avert disaster. Three Kings day was also the traditional day to take down the Christmas Tree, which was erected and decorated on Christmas Eve.
Sleigh Rides & Karnaval
Kulig, is a festive sleigh ride in Poland. When snow comes, the sleighs are pulled out of the barns. They might be more ordinary than the one St. Nick uses to deliver toys during Christmas, but fun none-the-less.
Horses pull the sleighs at a fast gallop and dogs follow by running behind or chasing the sleigh, yelping with happy barks. Children jump from the sleigh into deep banks of snow and make snowballs to throw at each other. Even making a snowman is great fun for the children and their parents - as well.
Everybody would then ride back singing to the music of the sleigh bells - And, once home enjoyed a hot meal and, at the same time, bantering about what it means to have a kulig. It is a healthy recreation, giving so much joy to all.
Can you figure out why Sleighs have bells? They go through the snow so quietly, that pedestrians would not be aware of the sled approaching from behind. Therefore, it's mandatory, by law, that everyone driving a sleigh use bells.
Different bells have different sounds. For instance, when the landlord of an estate was returning home after a long trip, his dog would recognize the bells from a distance, even among many other sleigh bells. The dog's barking alerted the whole family. The dog was never wrong.
Carnival is the time when people relieve themselves from the pressures of work and spend some pleasurable moments with their family and friends.
The time is reserved to tighten the bonds of friendship and to maintain contact with loved ones. One place in America that really celebrates Carnival to the fullest is New Orleans. Up here in Toledo we could take a few lessons from that French-Catholic town.
Before Poland's Christianization in 966, the celebration was called Sobótka and subsequently Noc Świętojańska (The Midsummer Night's Ritual of St. John's Eve).
The event falls on or near the summer solstice. According to Polish legends handed down for generations by babcias everywhere, the Eve of the Summer Solstice is filled with myth, mystery and magic. Certain plants and herbs take on magical properties to cure illness. Animals speak in human voices, and the earth shimmers with transparency and the barren fern blooms for just one moment in the deep recesses of the forest at midnight on this enchanting evening with a flaming flower. According to legend whoever finds the elusive fern in blossom will soon find great treasures.
Huge bonfires are set in the crop fields because the ancient belief promulgated by babcia said that the fire protected one against misfortunes. It was also thought that flooding the fields with smoke insured a plentiful harvest. Girls wore white clothes and danced in circles singing love songs, while the boys showed off their agility by leaping over the fire as the flames subsided.
Sobótka was a festival that welcomed summer, integrating the rites of fire, water, love and fertility. The amorous frivolities of this night were a manifestation of readiness for procreation. St. John's night wreaths called wianki, woven by girls from herbs and flowers from filed and garden, symbolized virginity, which girls were ready to offer to their boyfriends on that night in exchange for their love and promise of marriage.
Communal games and the burning of herbs foretold the future concerning love and marriage. Maidens set wreaths of flowers and candles, which they made themselves, afloat in the river. Legend says the boy who finds a particular maidens wreath would marry her. The wreath was an omen for the single woman, good or bad, depending on who retrieved the wreath, and whether it was caught or sank.
Today in Krakow, celebrations include music, dancing, boat parades and bonfires. But the highlight is the candle-lit wreaths floating on the Vistula River as the grand fireworks display begins. All over Poland, bonefires are enjoyed by crowds of spectators along the riverbanks on June 23 and June 24 (Saint John the Baptist Day and Saint Wanda's nameday).
After the introduction of Christianity, this pagan festival was adapted into a Church feast day, thus it was celebrated on St. John's Eve. At Mass, wreaths and herbs were blessed with holy water and later hung around holy pictures and doors, where they remained throughout the year.
As late as the 16th century, villagers and the nobility from the manor house came together to celebrate Sobótka, emphasizing the communal spirit of the rite. The great Polish poet Jan Kochanowski immortalized this custom in his Piesni Swietojanskiej o Sobotce (Songs of St, John's Eve), and William Shakespeare used it as the theme of his Midsummer Night's Dream.
Sobótka 2011 in Poznan a mass ascension of sky lanterns set a world's record of more than 11,000 launched.
Printable explanation of Sobótka [Click Here]
Some places in Poland present huge outdoor concerts featuring the best pop music artists in the country.
Man, this donut is heavy
One of my favorite Polish delicacies are Pączki.
I can't imagine anyone in Toledo not knowing what Pączek are - however if we have some visitors from another planet -- Pączki are round, sugar coated, fruit-filled pastries. They're fried, not baked, and covered with powdered sugar or glaze.
Pączki look like huge, round baseballs and pack 800 calories each. Many religions around the world celebrate a fasting period prior to a significant religious holiday. Catholics, for example, observe Lent, which is a "giving up" period prior to Easter. Frequently, these religions also observe a day or period of indulgence, which, in ancient times, permitted pantries to be cleared of foods restricted during the fast. Historically, pączki were made for practical reasons - to use up the lard and eggs that were prohibited during lent.
For many Christians, the conclusion to the period of indulgence during Karnawal is known as Fat Tuesday. It is out of these traditions that Pączki Day in America and Mardi Gras were born. However, if you visit Poland you would see that they get a whole week's jump on Ash Wednesday by jumping on the pączki bandwagon on Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday).
If you ever doubt the influence Polish culture has on our town - pączki sales across the area will easily top 5 thousand dozen.
See also: [Zapusty]
A ritual that is basically a ceremony of destruction. Obviously a pagan ritual that tenaciously clings to life in Poland. Destruction, or Death is represented by a doll named Marzanna or Morena among other derivatives with her name based on the Slavic root mor, used in words such as "confusion", "peril", "nightmare", "death" and "plague".
The Burning of this voodoo like doll Morena is a traditional folk festival still surviving in Slovakia and Czech Republic. The Drowning of Marzanna is a traditional folk fest in Poland, although in some parts of Poland it's more popular to burn depending on choice. Marzanna’s symbolism represents winter, death, sickness, destruction and starvation of the people. The two festivals are to symbolically welcome the spring and bury the winter.
Marzanna's rites are believed to survive into Christian times as Maslenitsa, a six or seven-day feast celebrated in early March. During the first five or six days of Maslenitsa, flat blini (blintz) [Blin from old Slavic "mlin" meaning to mill] are served and are believed to symbolize the Sun. This tradition was adopted by the Orthodox church and is carried on to the present day. Bliny were once also served at wakes, to commemorate the recently deceased.
Although nowadays it has no more religious meaning there are apparent Slavic roots of this fest, which makes the tradition attractive. Today's primarily practitioners, children in Polish kindergartens and elementary schools are always preparing Marzanna.
This could be the main reason the music genre know as "Death Metal" is a particularly popular style among youth of Poland.
Because of the obvious climatic conditions traditionally these willow twigs are used on Palm Sunday as "palms" to be blessed in the church. They are then taken home and placed by the holy picture of the Blessed Mother, and remain the entire year.
On Palm Sunday girls begin gathering eggs, which they painstakingly decorate to become "pisanki" [Intricate Details] noted for their intricate designs. In some villages a small decorated spruce tree is carried from house to house in the neighborhood. They knock on the windows and sing songs in praise of their spruce tree. Sleepy inhabitants arise and give them a gift of eggs.
Matins are observed in churches on Wednesday of the Holy Week. After each psalm is sung, candlelight is extinguished to signify the sorrow over the torture of Christ.
On Thursday of the Holy Week, comes the ceremonial washing of the feet of twelve impoverished old men at the church, in memory of the Last Supper. This ceremony is a reminder of the humility with which Christ washed the feet of his disciples. In olden days, Polish kings performed this rite. Today, the pastor tends to this ritual.
On Holy Saturday afternoon, the mother of the family or an older child carries a basket filled with butter, eggs, ham, sausage, horseradish, salt, and bread to be blessed by the parish priest. This ritual is called Święconka and more details can be seen if you [Click Here]
Lent may end Saturday at noon, but fasting is observed until Resurrection Mass. Typically Polish bonfire ceremonies are performed in the church yard on Holy Saturday. The ritual of the blessing of the fire dates back to pagan times. The old home fires are extinguished so that a new fire can be set aglow, ignited from a burning ember carried back home from the churchyard. This is to signify the renewal of faith and greeting of the spring. The church bells silenced on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, are now rung on Saturday at midnight in noisy celebration heralding the risen Lord.
The Easter table is covered with a white tablecloth. It is typically customary to have a roasted pig's head decked with flowers, ham, veal and kielbasa. In the middle of the table is a lamb shaped cake. Iced babki, thin and flat kolacze and mazurki flavored with lemon and dried fruit are also in good supply. The blessed eggs, the symbol of life, are sliced into pieces, and each person takes a piece of egg wishing each other good health, prosperity, and happiness for the coming year.
The Easter season in Poland ends on Monday when the traditional "dyngus - smigus" custom is observed. The young people break the solemnity of Easter by a burst of frivolity, playing pranks, and merrymaking.
[A Whole Lot More About Easter Traditions]
Dzien Swietego Jozefa
In the middle of Lent
In Poland, it is customary to celebrate "Imienien" or Namesday, the feast day of one's patron saint. To allow the many Josephs to celebrate their namesday, the Church would grant a dispensation from the rigors of Lent on March 19.
Dyngus the Rites of Spring
In pre-Christian times, Poles used the pouring of water and switching with willows branches to make themselves "pure" and "worthy" for the coming year. We find that the practice is also common in some other cultures near the equinox.
The custom of sprinkling holy water by our priests as a symbol of cleansing and blessing undoubtedly has its roots in the old pre-Christian traditions. Since the conversion of Poland in 966 A.D., and the baptism of Prince Mieszko I, the Church literally "baptized" and accepted these customs, raising them to a level of grace. Other examples of such "baptism" in Polish tradition include the blessing of Easter baskets, St. John's Eve - "Sobótka," Pentecost - "Zielone Swiatki," and a host of others.
Way back when, the baptizing of babies was almost exclusively performed during the Easter season, which is celebrated in early spring. Legend has it that Mieszko I was baptized on Easter Monday. Thus:
We have a great cause for celebration in both music and ritual on Dyngus Day, for this day marks the beginning of Roman Catholicism in Poland - the very reason that today we are of Catholic faith! Without our embracing the teachings of the Church and observance of its calendar, our other distinctive festivities just wouldn't exist.
We are a proud people of significant traditions, based on the influence of the Church more than any other source. The faith we hold so dearly as Polish Roman Catholics substantially defines our heritage and the noteworthy cultural rituals we practice.
Other historical events have influenced the traditions of Dyngus Day as well. One of the most moving stories of Polish folklore is the Legend of the Polish Princess Wanda, who was said to have drowned herself in the Wisla River rather than marry a German nobleman she did not love. For this reason, girls are doused with water to immortalize the memory of Princess Wanda.
Following the somber and reflective season of Lent, Dyngus Day is an appropriate time to celebrate the wealth of our heritage. We as Poles celebrate holidays with a profound amount of dignity and sobriety. As we should. But, perhaps it's time to resurrect the celebration of Dyngus Day -- not only to recall what might be the most ancient celebration in our culture, but also to celebrate the totality of Polishness.
If on St. Patrick's Day everyone is Irish in the wearing of the green, surely Dyngus Day ought to be the day everyone is Polish in the wearing of the red (and white).
Zaduszki - All Souls
Each November 2, on All Souls' Day (Dzien Zaduszny or Zaduszki), you will find that Poland is one vast moving group of people on their way to visit the cemeteries laying flowers and lighting candles upon the burial stones of their ancestors. Since virtually every stone in the graveyard has at least one sizable candle lit, a warm hue of yellowish-white light can be discerned from afar. This day of remembering the departed is only preceded in importance by Christmas (Boze Narodzenie) and Easter (Wielkanoc). Most Poles attend Mass this day carrying with them "wypominki" a list of deceased family members from which names are read from the alter. Then it's off to the cemetery believing no grave must be allowed to go unattended. Yes, there are traffic jams and congestion. But, it is little price to pay in the remembrance of those family members that passed on.
In larger cities municipal governments arrange special public transportation service to move throngs in an orderly manner to the largest cemeteries. From near and far people silently move along carrying wreaths, flowers and candles, from dawn until dusk on the most heavily travel day in Poland.
All Souls' Day is a moving and profound expression of the faith of the Polish people and an indication of another national characteristic -- the respect accorded to deceased relatives and friends. In a recent survey 50% of the respondents said they would be visiting 5 or more grave sites on this national holiday. Only 2% responded that they would not participate in the ritual.
Thanks to W. Salwierz for illustrative photograph
New Orleans Mardi Gras is a spectacle. However, the Polish tradition of Karnawal and especially the Zapusty part of it is not as well known or appreciated even by folks of Polish extraction here in America.
Polish-Americans are steadfast in holding on to the Polish customs and traditions of Christmas and Easter. Faithful observances of Wigilia on Christmas Eve and Swieconka at Easter. So, it’s a bit surprising to me that the typical American from Polish lineage really doesn’t know about the other significant celebrations, which were and still are a big part of the fabric of Polish traditions.
The long cold stretch of days from New Year’s until Ash Wednesday are not a vast boring void in Polish society. No sir! This time of year is “ball” season. Window displays in shops feature formals and accessories any self-respecting dame would be proud to wear at any of the formal dances and parties held during Karnawal.
In the States “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD) has become a big concern and medical topic of considerable proportion. Winter is the season when people are more likely to feel the blahs, the blues, and tend to be more psychologically depressed due to the short days and cloudy skies not to mention the tendency to be cooped up in the house due to the colder temperatures. It seems to be a modern phenomena and an increasing concern for the medical community in treating folks so affected.
I am amazed sometimes of the simple brilliance of our forefathers. Polish winter weather is just as, if not more dismal as ours up here around the Great Lakes Region. But, instead of spending a hundred bucks or so each week at the psychiatrist, the Poles simply and more inexpensively party their way to happiness until the serious observation of Lent falls upon Christians.
Throughout the years the middle and nobility classes of Polish society held fancy masquerade balls, which were kicked off by a majestic polonaise. These jovial events also held an ulterior purpose. Well attended by younger singles, the guys and dolls of marriageable age would eye one another with interest in the hope of finding the man or woman of their dreams during these social gatherings. With so many hormones pumping through the human body, what chance is there of depression setting in?
Peasant class folk had their fun as well. Bands of masquerading revelers roamed around the village much the way Carolers make their rounds during Christmas. They most often masquerade as a goat, a bear, a horse, a stork and Jew. Sometimes a bear costumed man would growl at the small children, who clung in terror to their mothers' ample skirts, and whoever played the devil would chase the young girls round the room with his pitchfork as they squealed and feigned horror. There were numerous local variations on this custom of house-to-house visits by roving bands of revelers known as zapustnicy. The personification of the season was Zapust (Mr. Carnival), a masquerader wearing a paper hat and a sheepskin coat turned fleece-side-out.
[Lajkonik Costumes & Purchase]
At one time, female market vendors hired musicians, assembled food and drink and danced in the streets with every male passerby they could get hold off. The hapless victims could buy themselves off, but not very well-to-do males often put up with the abuse for the free drinks and eats they would get. Unlike the gourmet delights that graced the tables of the upper classes, the common folk of town and countryside drank beer and gorzalka (vodka), feasted on fatty sausages, black pudding (kiszka), boiled bacon, tripe and buckwheat pancakes known as racuchy. Paczki were a relative late-comer to the peasant scene and usually turned out heavier and more substantial than those fried in cities and rural manor-houses. The same was true of the other well-known Shrovetide speciality, faworki, which turned out thicker and heavier than the dainty angel-wing pastries of upscale circles and thus were and dubbed chrust or chrusciki (kindling).
Singing, dancing and drinking went on at country inns and masqueraders paraded through the village streets. Young bachelors would herd eligible girls together in a large cottage or inn and stage a mock auction as if they were buying cattle or horses.
If a lad found a lass to his liking, he would take her to the hay barn to 'inspect' her more closely. If the girl took a fancy to him, he could expect a colored egg from her come Easter. Many parish priests were often surprisingly tolerant of the carnival goings-on of the younger set, knowing the frolic would eventually lead to the altar. One reason for this was the great stigma attached to any eligible young man or woman who failed to find a mate before the carnival period ended. Such people could expect to have egg shells, chicken feet, turkey necks, herring bones, cattle windpipes and other such nasty things pinned to their clothes. They might also have blocks of wood attached to them: You refused to submit to the yoke of matrimony, so drag this as you go!' But it was all in fun and they could buy themselves off by standing drinks for everyone at the village inn, where everyone laughed, sang and made merry.
The merriment came to an abrupt end on the evening of Shrove Tuesday. Many social gatherings ended before midnight with a snack of salt herring, which would become a dietary mainstay for the next 40 days. According to one folk belief, the devil himself stood outside inns, taverns and houses in which parties were being held, noting down which merry-maker had left the premises after midnight and had therefore committed a mortal sin.
In other venues the last party of Zapusty lasted until dawn. The revelers would then go directly to Church when light broke on Ash Wednesday to be anointed on the forehead.
Here in Toledo, trying to keep as much of the Polish traditions in practice as possible so that us Poles don’t become too mundane vanilla, I hold a Zapusty celebration on the Saturday preceding Ash Wednesday. The practicality of Saturday is of necessity in secular American culture. I call it Glupi Saturday (foolish Saturday). It is not a completely authentic replication of the Polish celebration because of certain inhibiting factors in American culture. But, the general custom observance is what’s really important.
The Polish Harvest Celebration is a time-honored tradition. The week before Dozynki, peasants gather together to prepare the przepiorka, a three-dimensional wreath decorated with wild flowers and ribbons, to present to the revered Lord and Lady (Panstwo Gospodarze), the landowners on whose property the harvesters work.
As the Lord oversees the progress of the harvest, he is hailed and toasted with chants "Ten bedzie Sto Lat zyl!" (that he may live and prosper for 100 years).
The most industrious female harvester is chosen as the 'przodownica' the harvest queen. The selection is also based on beauty and eloquence. She receives this honor with a crown made of wheat, rye, oats and field flowers, in a moving ceremony, as she is encircled by the entire harvest community.
In Poland it is customary to hold the celebration on or near the date of August 15. It is the Feast of the Assumption of our Heavenly Mother, Virgin Mary. Dressed in their Sunday finery of exquisite embroidered and beribboned costumes, the harvesters march in procession to the manor of their employer singing " We have gathered the harvest for you from all sides of the field". The Harvest Queen removes her crown and speaks on behalf of her fellow harvesters, bestowing a harvest blessing to the Lord and Lady, offering her crown as a symbolic gift.
Here in Toledo the Toledo-Poznan Alliance holds an annual Dozynki during Polish Heritage Month in October or late September. [Link to TPA]
[Link to Dozynki Page]
In Polish it's called imieniny (eem-yeh-NEE-nih). Birthdays or urodziny, are becoming more popular in an increasingly secular Poland. Traditionally, parents named their kids after a saint whose feastday coinsided with the birthdate or baptismal date. There are usually 2-8 saints listed on each date of the calendar still printed in Poland. So, parents had a bit of choice in naming their baby. In the old days priests enforced this practice. [List of Polish Namesdays]
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