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Polish Easter traditions
 

Holy Week

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of intensive preparations for Easter. Holy Week - the week between Palm Sunday and Easter - is “cleaning week” in the broadest sense. Through fasting and prayer, people prepare their bodies and spirits for the Easter celebration, and at the same time Holy Week is an intense week of cleaning, baking and cooking.

 

Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday)

Holy Thursday is the feast falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. On this day 4 events are commemorated: the washing of the Disciples' Feet by Jesus Christ, the institution of the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, the agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot. The celebration of these events marks the beginning of what is called the Easter Triduum (a 3-day period). In the past fires were lit at crossroads so that wayfarers and poor people could warm themselves. Meals were also placed at these spots so that these people could nourish themselves - and together with them the good spirits of the house. On the morning of Holy Thursday, the vestments are changed on the miraculous icon in the chapel of the Pauline monastery at Jasna Gora in Czestochowa (read more.. )

 

Good Friday (Great Friday)

Good Friday marks the start of the vigil at symbolic tombs of Christ, which lasts until Holy Saturday. Visits are made to “tombs of Christ’. The adoration of the Good Friday tombs is called “the visitation of the tombs’. No animals could be slaughtered or bread baked, and mirrors covered over. The use of combs was not allowed, so Good Friday was a day of mourning. On that day a “funeral of zur and herring” was organized. A clay pot with zur was shattered and a herring was hung on a branch as punishment “that for 6 weeks it had ruled over meat”. On Holy Friday a strict fast is observed. In cities and towns, people visit various churches to view representations of Christ’s tomb which are often beautifully and artistically arranged and decorated in flowers.

 

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday services accompanied by processions are held to commemorate the Resurrection. Inside the churches, priests sprinkled holy water on small baskets (called święcone or święconka) brought by believers and filled with bread, cakes, eggs, horseradish, sausages, ham, salt, pepper, and tiny sugar lambs. The consecration of eggs refers to egg being an ancient symbol of life. The consecration of horseradish refers to the bitterness of the passion of Jesus which, on the day of resurrection, changed into joy and sweetness. In old Poland, this resurrection service was an opportunity to identify witches, for witches were believed to enjoy eating sausage during sermons, still during lent. It was also believed that a priest could see which of the women attending mass was a witch, but was not allowed to reveal his information. It was also believed that during Easter procession, a female collaborator of Satan was unable to go around the church three times, and had to leave the procession after the second circuit. After resurrection, gunshots were fired as an expression of joy.

 

Pisanki (coloured eggs)

On Holy Thursday or Good Friday, Easter eggs are coloured in Poland as a symbol of life. The earliest painted eggs found on Polish territories date from the 10th cent., and were found in archeological sites. As interpreted by the Christian faith, the egg represents Christ Resurrected; it is also a symbol of the immortal soul and a promise for the body to be resurrected too. It is therefore an important Easter symbol and the first food eaten on Easter Sunday. Divided into parts and eaten in a solemn atmosphere before the Easter Breakfast, eggs are supposed to ensure health, happiness and prosperity. The practice of coloring Easter eggs is very much alive in Poland today as well as enjoyed by Polish people all over the world. Eggs, dyed different colours and decorated with a pattern, constitute a remarkable example of ritual art and are a beautiful element of the Easter table decoration. The most popular decorative techniques in Poland are batik and engraving techniques. The engraving technique is based on scratching out a pattern with a sharp tool on a previously dyed egg. The batik technique is based on sketching out a design on an egg shell with heated wax, then dipping the egg in a dye and finally removing the wax. A multicolor design is obtained by covering the egg with wax in multiple stages. Eggs which are painted in one colour are called malowanki (hand painted) or kraszanki (dyed with plant materials, such as onion skins, beet skins, etc). If patterns are etched with a pointed instrument on top of the paint, the eggs are then called skrobanki or rysowanki. Eggs with paper cut-outs or straw glued to them are called nalepianki or wyklejanki and those decorated with the use of treated wax are called pisanki.

 

Easter Sunday (Niedziela Wielkanocna)

Easter Sunday remains one of the most festive and important holidays of the year in Poland . The celebration begins very early in the morning, around 6, when the Resurrection Mass is held; following the mass families rush back to their houses and begin the Easter breakfast. It is tradition to begin the breakfast by sharing the blessed egg. The egg is cut into fourths and then eighths, and each person at the table eats their piece while wishing joy and giving blessings to others. Then, the actual feast begins. The Easter table is as abundant and rich as it can be. Tradition forbids women to cook during this holiday, so all the food is prepared the week before. The table is covered with white cloth and the centerpiece is the Easter lamb, which is usually made out of sugar, salt, clay or wood, depending on the region of Poland . The lamb sits on home-grown cress and represents Christ Resurrected. Usually, after sharing the blessed egg, white borsch (żurek) is served with hard-boiled eggs. Then, there is variety of sausages, an assortment of sliced cold meats on a lettuce-lined serving platter, pâté, and all kinds of roasted meats. On the side, unique condiments are served: pickled mushrooms, varieties of horseradish, and beet and horseradish relish (ćwikła). Cakes are also a very important part of the breakfast. Some of them, like gigantic cakes called baby and mazurki, are traditionally made only during Easter. Mazurek is a very decorative, flat cake covered with paste of almonds and other nuts, colorfully iced and decorated with jam, nuts and raisins. The Easter breakfast lasts several hours. After the feast is over, there is still enough food to be eaten for a week, and everyone at the table can barely walk. “Famous for their hospitality, Poles take pride in ensuring their guests leave the table feeling as uncomfortable as possible.” 


Wet Monday (Lany poniedziałek)

Wet Monday (Lany poniedziałek / śmigus-dyngus), the second day of the Easter Holiday, is a favorite among the younger people in Poland . In a welcome break from Easter solemnity, youths all over Poland devise ways to douse each other with water. The origin of the dousing is still uncertain; some believe that this tradition originated in pagan times, while others derive this holiday from the baptism of Poland in 966. Śmigus dyngus starts at the break of dawn. Traditionally, only men doused girls with water. Girls who got soaked on that day would have better chances of getting married that year. Nowadays, everyone soaks everyone else! Young people stand in front of churches and pour buckets of water on everyone as they exit, people throw water balloons off of buildings, and there are water gun fights on the streets, especially if wet Monday turns out to be on an exceptionally warm day. This is one of the most comical and funny holidays of the year.

 

Lajkonik in Kraków

1 week later, an interesting event takes place in Krakow. The hero of the festivity is “lajkonik” or a man disguised as Tatar, riding a peculiar kind of hobby horse. The custom dates back to the 17th cent.. The legend says of an unexpected Tatar foray on the Krakow province in the 13th cent. A brave young raftsman, having gathered a group of companions, defeated the invaders and returned to town wearing the colorful outfit of a Tatar khan. During the Tatar attack, the legend then follows, a Tatar arrow struck in the throat a Krakow trumpeter, who from the spire of the church of the Holy Virgin tried to alarm citizens of the danger. Since that time, Krakow bugle-call, sounded every hour from the tower of the church, breaks abruptly.





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