It should be said first and foremost that I grew up in Poland. Poland is a Catholic country. It has over 10,000 parishes. If you really wanted to do some maths, you’d find out that there is one church for every 30 sq km of terrain, including the forests. Forests cover nearly 30% of the country.
So religion is a thing where I grew up. The great thing about Catholicism is that around holidays it’s pretty fun. Especially around Easter. To explain just how fun it is, I’ve pulled together some of my favourite Easter traditions here.
Palm Sunday and making of the ‘palm’
Palm trees don’t grow in Poland so in the middle ages, when this holiday was first celebrated, it used to be called willow Sunday. Palm Sunday is a commemoration of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, during which palm leaves were apparently involved. They do make a great natural fan as well as decent path lining if you ask me…but we don’t really have them in Poland. Instead a ‘palemka’ (little palm) is created from various decorative grasses, straw, dried flowers and the like to create a beautiful, decorative token which is taken to church for a blessing on the Sunday before Easter. These creations can be truly wonderful and come in a variety of sizes from ones that kids can carry to enormous ones which take a whole community to transport. I love a good craft and these take a certain sense of aesthetic as well as composition skill to get right. Even though I am not much of a churchgoer, if I happen to be in Poland around Easter time, I’m totally making one.
Painted eggs aka Pisanki
I’m not talking about eggs dipped in food dye. Painted eggs in Eastern and Central Europe are on a whole other level. There are two specific methods which I like and which the craftier of my grandmothers taught me. The first one involves clean (hard boiled) eggs being covered in pattern first and then dyed. The pattern is applied with a thin needle and wax. Once the wax hardens, the egg is then dipped in dye and once dry, wiped clean with a warm cloth. The wax uncovers the natural egg shell’s colour resulting in often very whimsical Easter eggs. The other method, more precise one, involves a special scalpel-like blade. First, the eggs are dyed, then when dry, a pattern is scratched our onto the shell. I used t love making the traditional pisanki, but I’m so rubbish and them now that I simply just enjoy the sight of them made by people more skilled than myself.
There is also a beautiful craft of hand painting the eggs, but that’s totally out of my league.
Easter breakfast starts the day before, with a visit to the church. During that visit a basket of food is brought into the church. In the basket usually there are: hard boiled eggs and pisanki (symbol of new life), cured ham or high quality cured sausage (symbols of prosperity), horseradish root (to chase away the evil), salt (symbolising purity and truth) and bread (symbol of Christ). The basket is decorated with few very specific items – it is usually covered with a white lace (for practicality, you don’t want dirt on your food), includes a sugar or chocolate lamb and an evergreen, usually from buxus family. If you are feeling adventurous you can also bring some pepper to keep the life spicy. The good thing about this basket is that the contents get to be eaten during breakfast the next morning. Easter breakfasts in my region are as important as Christmas Eve dinners. The whole family gathers on Sunday morning, usually after the 9am mass, for a huge, leisurely breakfast-brunch. With Saturday being a day of fast, breaking the fast with a big family breakfast is just wonderful.
(image credit: Beata Spychała, https://www.dopiewo.pl/aktualnosci/2016-03-08/swiecenie-potraw-26-marca-2016)
Easter Monday aka Śmigus-dyngus
This one is my favourite. It all starts at the church in the morning. We all sit happily at the mass, listening to the joyful sermon. The moment it is finished, we all pull out water guns, water bottles, buckets of water and water balloons and have a massive water fight on the doorstep of the church. Not even the priest is spared. If you walk down a street on Easter Monday, you will have water poured on your head – kids and adults alike take part and everybody has a good time. It goes ahead even when it’s cold – nobody minds and everybody has a good laugh.
A warning though – it is not uncommon to be woken up by a glassful of water thrown at your head!
(Image credit: Śmigus Dyngus, pocztówka z Parku Etnograficznego w Tokarni)
Happy Easter you guys!