Easter is the oldest and most important a Christian festival and cultural holiday celebrating the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus Christ, preceded by Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.
Preparing our Home for Easter
Polish Easter is preceded by a few other traditions. Although it is not a Christian Easter tradition, spring cleaning has taken firm roots in Polish culture. Every year, therefore, a big clean-up takes place in our homes. At the beginning of spring, as soon as the snow has passed and the first sunny days arrive, the whole family shares the chores and prepares the house before Easter. The cleaning reminds us of the upcoming holiday and symbolically puts an end to the cold winter days.
Just before Easter comes a creative and one of the more enjoyable Easter customs: painting hard-boiled eggs. Eggs have long been a symbol of nascent life, which directly relates to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the past, naturally coloured (e.g. in onion broth) eggs were believed to have magical powers and could cure illnesses.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, which symbolises the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. At this time, colourful Easter palms are brought to church to be blessed. In the past, the palms were woven by ourselves. Nowadays, however, bought ones are popular, usually made from boxwood, willow branches, various dried flowers and herbs. However, the custom of making twigs by hand has not died completely! Many towns hold competitions for the most beautiful, tallest or most original palm tree.In Poland the consecrated palm was considered a symbol of good luck, so it was always taken home and hung in a prominent place. It was meant to stay there for an equal year – until it was replaced by another.
Holy Week concludes with the Paschal Triduum. It begins on the evening of Maundy Thursday, includes Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and ends on the evening of Easter Sunday, the first day of Easter. It is on Sunday (or in some areas, late in the evening on Saturday) that the liturgy of the Paschal Vigil takes place. This is the most important Mass of the year in the Catholic Church – it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Holy Saturday, usually in the morning, food is blessed. Nowadays, rather symbolic foods are brought to church – foods that fit into a small basket. These include eggs (symbolising new life), cold cuts (symbolising fertility), horseradish (symbolising abundance) or salt (symbolising purification from evil). The basket is also often decorated with a lamb figurine (made of sugar, butter or bread, symbol of Jesus Christ) and basil.
Resurrection mass – a ceremonial service and procession is celebrated on the eve of Paschal Eve or on the night from Saturday to Sunday. On the morning of Sunday, families sit together at the table and in much the same way as for Christmas with the sharing of the opłatek (Christmas wafer), people share wedges of the blessed Easter eggs from the basket. They exchange wishes and a Wesołego Alleluja (Joyful Hallelujah).
The last festive day is Easter Monday, we celebrate ‘Śmigus Dyngus’ (Wet Monday) in Poland. On this day children douse themselves in water. The custom of dousing people with water dates back to pagan times, although śmigus and dyngus used to be separate ceremonies.
Traditional Dishes of Polish Easter
In Poland, we also have our traditional dishes for Easter.The Easter table should be rich in all kinds of dishes! Both the savoury ones and those prepared sweet. Such dishes include:
- Biała kiełbasa (eng. white sausage)
- Żur, żurek (eng. soup made of homemade or store-bought sourdough from rye flour)
- Śledź (eng. herring)
- Chrzan (eng. grating horseradish roots)
- Mazurek (eng. flat shortbread can be made of different kinds of dough and toppings – for example, marmalade, chocolate glazing, dried fruit or nuts)
- Sernik (eng. rich creamy baked cheesecake that differs from its American counterpart in cheese)
- Babka (eng. no-knead yeast cake baked in a Bundt pan)
- Makowiec (eng. poppy seed roll spun like a strudel)
- Pasztet (eng. pâté)