Gdansk for Easter!
The exceptional time of the most important Christian festival is drawing near. Easter lasts for 2 days and this year it will be on the 16th and 17th April. What are the Polish celebrations like and what are the related customs? Here are some basic facts.
Of course, for most of us this information is obvious, but for our foreign guests – not necessarily so. Because of the date of the fest, Easter is naturally associated with spring. This season is excellent for celebrations, as we witness nature’s coming back to life – leaves appear on trees, there are more and more flowers on lawns.
Preparations for Easter start with Lent – 40 days before Palm Sunday which comes right before Easter Sunday. Traditionally, this is a time with no ostentatious parties, no church weddings and also a time when our diet is a little more modest than usual. For some, this is also a time of resolutions and self-denial. Lent ends on Palm Sunday which is a commemoration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and people bring twigs and palms into church. These are the most colourful masses in the entire year!
Then comes Holy Week. The most important day is Good Friday which is a day of fasting to remember Jesus Christ’s death and martyrdom. Holy Saturday marks the beginning of the joyful wait for the Lord’s Resurrection. This is the day when Poles take small baskets out of closets, fill them with delicious food and take them to church for consecration. According to tradition, the basket has to have an egg or eggs (as a symbol of birth and new life), a sausage, a piece of bread and a pinch of salt. You may also add something sweet, for instance a piece of babka or mazurek – cakes invariably associated with Easter. The egg or eggs are often painted or otherwise decorated – usually by the youngest members of the household for whom decorating is a lot of fun and joy. The food is served the next day for breakfast.
Easter is associated with some traditional Polish dishes which are worth noting. You cannot forget the delicious żurek sour soup, and babka and mazurek cakes. In many households, horseradish is the main spice at Easter, sometimes combined with beetroot as ćwikła. On the first day of Easter, believers attend a ceremonial mass at church and then meet with family and friends to celebrate the feast with abundant and rich meals.
Easter Monday brings another custom which is not well-known outside Poland although it dates back to the 14th century: Ducking Monday or Śmigus-Dyngus. This is the only day in the year when you can pour water on someone and get away with it – even though not always staying dry! On this day, everybody should get someone wet (but exaggeration is not welcome…). In some regions of Poland, this custom takes a more traditional, but more painful form – whipping of other people’s backs or legs with birch twigs. Young men run after girls with buckets or twigs and being poured on or whipped means luck and fast marriage. Superstition has it that people who don’t get wet or whipped will suffer from bad luck. Some girls used to consider being left out as an offence, as it showed that no lads were interested in them.
Easter Monday marks the end of the celebrations. The Poles have a saying: “feast, feast and the feast is gone”.
Concluding, we may add that during this period, many hotels and guesthouses offer special, Easter-spring promotions, so it is worth checking the websites of places of interest because you may find a real bargain.