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Easter in Gdansk

A special time is coming – the most important Christian holiday, Easter, which is a two-day celebration, comes relatively late this year – on 21 and 22 April. How is Easter celebrated in Poland and what Easter-related customs do we have? Here’s a couple of facts about the holiday.

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For most Poles, these facts will be obvious, but for guests from abroad – not so much. Considering the season during which it is celebrated, Easter is naturally associated with spring. The season perfectly matches the holiday as it is when nature comes back to life – new leaves are sprouting from the trees and flowers begin blooming in the fields.

The Easter preparation time begins with Lent – 40 days before Palm Sunday – which directly precedes Easter Sunday. During this time, Poles traditionally refrain from loud partying and organising church weddings, and our diet becomes a bit more limited than usual. For some, it is a time for resolutions and self-denial. At the end of Lent, on Palm Sunday, we commemorate Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem, and the faithful bring twigs and Easter palms to mass. These are the most colourful masses of the year!

What follows is the Holy Week. Its most important day is Good Friday, on which Poles fast to commemorate the martyrdom of Jesus Christ. On Easter Saturday, we begin to happily await the Resurrection of Jesus. On that day, Poles break out their baskets and fill them with all kinds of delicious food, which is then blessed at the church. Traditionally, a basket must contain eggs (the symbol of birth and new life), sausage, a piece of bread and a pinch of salt. A piece of special Easter cake is also a common addition. Eggs are often painted or otherwise decorated – this is usually done by the youngest members of every household, who have a lot of fun doing it. The food is then served for breakfast the next day.

It should be noted that Easter is associated with a number of traditional Polish dishes. These include the delicious zurek, Easter babka and mazurek. For many, horseradish (optionally with ground beetroot mixed in) is the main condiment of the season. On the first day of Easter, Polish Christians attend a celebratory mass before having a delicious meal with family or friends.

On Easter Monday a 14th-century tradition is celebrated which is not really well-known outside of Poland: Smigus-Dyngus. It is the only day in the year when you can throw water over someone and get away with it! On that day, it is obligatory for everyone to sprinkle another person (within reason!). In some parts of Poland, this tradition assumes a more traditional, though also slightly more painful, form – whipping each other’s backs with birch twigs. Bachelors chase girls with water and twigs in hand, and being sprinkled or whipped is supposed to bring good fortune and result in a quick marriage. Those who evade sprinkling and whipping will supposedly suffer misfortune. Some girls consider not being whipped or sprinkled an insult, or a sign of a lack of male interest.

Easter Monday is the final day of Easter. The holiday is gone again as quickly as it came.

To wrap it up, it is worth noting that a great many hotels and B&Bs offer special holiday and spring deals during this period. It is a good idea to browse the websites of guest houses in the areas you want to visit in search of discounts.

Happy Easter!