FROM THE SAME CLOTH. Though we may be generations away from our ancestral roots in Poland, we share the spirituality and customs of Easter in the same fashion. The above photo — taken in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Lublin — could be used to described Holy Saturday blessings Polish church in the United States, Canada, or elsewhere outside of Poland.
by Rev. Dr. Czesław M. Krysa
Polish American Journal, March 2016
Recall now, the church or place to which you take your family for the Easter food blessing. If you attend a PolAm Church, most likely there is a devotional depiction of the Lord, buried in a Garden Tomb nearby, covered with exuberant potted spring flowers, and branches, where families kneel and light vigil candles.
In Polish spirituality, Holy Saturday is the quietest day of the year, both in church and at home. Once pianos or radios, today iPads and entertaining smart phones lie dormant. The mouth of God has been shut by executioners and sealed in a tomb. All creation weeps silently, gathering at the Lord’s Tomb in a holy vigil before the Resurrection.
Yes, the Son of God who spoke Gospel, Good News, is clamped shut by death. As Isaiah the prophet proclaimed: like a lamb led to the slaughter, he opened not his mouth. Every shepherd in the Middle East knows that the ranting and raving, baaa-ing male sheep are cowards. They create a scene and make noise when danger approaches, failing to protect their ewe, and their baby lambs.
The silent ram symbolizes masculine strength, a defense to the death of their young, and the silent victor. The Paschal Lamb of ancient Christian art, as well as the centerpiece of the Polish Easter Table, is a ram with a red and white cross, emblazoned: aThis is why alt This is the exact opposite of the commercialized fuzzy, cutesy bunny or vernal rodent.
The silent strength of the condemned Jesus is rooted in a confident trust in his Father’s love, never to abandon his Son, even when publicly rejected by his own people. Death seals the lips that proclaimed forgiveness, and ceases the freedom that healed and comforted, and fed thousands. Death closes his mouth, but is not victorious, for the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, tramples death by his death, and rises forever only to welcome us to his new wedding feast (Rv 19:9)─the Easter Eucharist, reaching the family in blessed Resurrection feast or święconka. Yet another holy meal, as on Christmas Eve, of the Polish family or domestic church.
However, the fundamental uniqueness of the Polish family Food Blessing is that it takes place at a Garden Tomb. Roman Catholic rituals for the blessing, used in Poland, all exhort those who presented the fruits of their Lenten Fast in food baskets to visit the Lord’s Tomb (Boży Grób) and adore the Lord often present there in the Blessed Sacrament.
Here lies the two-fold secret of Poland’s unique spirituality: Keeping a prayer vigil at the Tomb, we remember those who taught us how to prepare our baskets and take them to church on Holy Saturday. Especially if they are deceased, we pray, that buried with Jesus in Baptism and the death of the grave, they also rise with him eternally. Pray for your deceased family members at Jesus’ Holy Saturday Tomb, especially when you still feel the pain of their loss. Pray that they share the Victor Ram’s everlasting resurrection.
Blessing and consuming of symbolic Easter foods is a pre-Christian memorial meal for the ancestors. Ancients placed leftovers overnight on the family table or threshold or even cemetery, believing the spirits of deceased returned home for “refreshment” in their deathly fate. Polish Catholicism looks to Jesus, the firstborn of the dead, our First Ancestor in the faith, and honors him who, in turn, gives life to all. Hence, the profound reason to pray before his Tomb on Holy Saturday for your beloved deceased.
The second unique feature of our Polish faith heritage is that these foods were shared with the needy and poor. Polish solidarity with the underdog, (consider the Worrying Christ figures of Chrystus Frasobliwy), extends to those that society rejects and marginalizes. Blessing baskets carry the fruit of your family’s Lenten fast, and in some manner must be shared with those who personally today share in Jesus’ lot, for whom fasting and want is not a choice, but a way of life.
This is why altar servers in Poland sell sugar Lambs, Easter Palms, etc., and collect the proceeds for children summer camps for low-income families. The Archbishop of Kraków blesses an Easter Table extending the length of the medieval square for the homeless and those without work, sponsored by the restaurants of the royal city. Polish homespun spirituality recognizes Jesus’ rejection in their plight and actively responds to the one in need with the belief: Whatsoever you do to the least of my people that you do onto me (Mt 25:40).
Therefore, for a full Polish święconka celebration, find a PolAm Church nearby or search for one farther away. Make a Holy Saturday pilgrimage with your family during this Year of Mercy, to pray before the Lord’s Tomb for your beloved family members who have passed away. Donate the fruits of your Lenten fasting in kind, for a local food bank or church food pantry. Recognize Jesus walking among us and then, welcome him, the Risen, Victorious Lord to your family’s Resurrection Feast, as you share the blessed egg: Chrystus zmartwychwstał! Christ is risen!
Rev. Dr. Czesław M. Krysa is Rector of The Church of St. Casimir, Prince of the Poor, in Buffalo, N.Y. He is a well-known ethnographer, and the respected author of many works, including A Polish Christmas Eve, and — most recently — Polish American Heritage Hymns: Spirituality in Song and Ritual.
Popielec, Sroda Popielocowa. Ash Wednesday traditionally ends the period of pre-Lenten merriment known as Karnawal or Zapusty and ushers in 40 days of fast and penance in preparation for Easter. Priests sprinkle the heads of the faithful with ashes while saying, Pamietaj, czlowiecze, ze z prochu powstales i w proch sie obrocisz. (Remember, man, thou art dust and to dust thou shall return.)
Wielki Post. Literally "the Great Fast," Lent is a time of special services, retreats, fasting and individual acts of penance. Liquor and raucous entertainment are avoided, and very few weddings take place.
Gorzkie Zale. Ancient chants retracing the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ form the essence of this typically Polish weekly Lenten service that takes its name from the words of the hymn, "Gorzkie zale przybywajcia" (Come to us, bitter lamentations).
Dzien Swietego Jozefa. Although few Polish babies nowadays are named Jozef, in the past this was a very popular name. To allow the many Josephs to celebrate their namesday, the Church would grant a dispensation from the rigors of Lent on March 19.
Topienie Marzanny. The custom of drowning Marzanna, the symbol of winter, was most popular among youngsters in the Opole region of Slask (Silesia). They would carry a straw effigy dressed in rags on a pole through the village and dump it into the nearest river or lake amid songs and laughter.
Wielki Tydzien. The culmination of Lent is Holy Week, appropriately known in Polish as "the Great Week." The most important are the first day, Palm Sunday, and the last three, known by the Latin term, "Triduum." The remaining days are largely set aside for the physical preparation for Easter. shopping, baking and house-cleaning.
Niedziela Palmowa. In the past, Palm Sunday was called Niedziela Kwietna (floral Sunday), because bouquets of wildflowers, pussy willows and evergreens were blessed in churches, rather than real, subtropical palms, which were not available.
Bazie, Kotki. Pussy willow branches are cut several weeks ahead and placed in water so they sprout their furry, little buds by Palm Sunday. According to one old folk custom, swallowing one of the buds was said to ensure health all year. Girls also could expect to have their legs thrashed by boys with pussy willow branches.
Topienie Judasza. On Holy Wednesday, youngsters enjoyed hurling an effigy of Judas from the church steeple. It was then dragged through the village, pounded with sticks and stones and what was left of it was drowned in a nearby pond or river.
Kalwaria. Calvary is the name of several Polish localities that serve as retreat and pilgrimage centers especially during Holy Week. The best known Kalwaria Zebrzydowska near Pope John Paul II’s birthplace of Wadowice.
Wielki Czwartek. Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper when Christ instituted the priesthood. In cathedrals, bishops wash the feet of 12 elderly men just as Christ did his apostles before the supper.
Wielki Piatek. Good Friday, the most somber day of the year, is a day of solemn church services centering on the Death of Christ. The sorrowful mood is enhanced by such plaintive hymns as "Ludu, moj ludu" and "W Krzyzdu cierpienie." The violet draping is removed from the Crucifix, which is displayed for public veneration, and a tableau of Christ’s Tomb is unveiled.
Grob Panski, Bozy Grob. A lifesize figure of Christ lying in His tomb is widely visited by the faithful, especially on Holy Saturday. The tableaux may include flowers, candles, figures of angels standing watch, the three crosses atop Mt. Calvary and much more. Each parish strives to come up with the most artistically and religiously evocative arrangement in which the Blessed Sacrament, draped in a filmy veil, is prominently displayed.
Swiecone. Baskets containing a sampling of Easter foods are brought to church to be blessed on Holy Saturday. The basket is traditionally lined with a white linen or lace napkin and decorated with sprigs of boxwood (bukszpan), the typical Easter evergreen.
Pisanki. Although this term has come to mean Easter eggs in general, strictly speaking it refers only to those eggs decorated with the molten-wax technique. Various regions have developed designs of their own, which include floral and geometric patterns, typical Easter motifs (the Lamb, Cross, pussy willow), the greeting, "Wesolego Alleluja," or simply "Alleluja" and the current year.
Baranek Wielkanocny. The Easter Lamb bearing a cross-emblazoned flag represents Christ Resurrected and is thus the typical Polish Easter symbol. The lamb adorns greeting cards, sugar lambs are blessed in Easter baskets and plaster lambs form the centerpiece of the swieconka table.
Rezurekcja. The joyous Easter morning Mass at daybreak when church bells ring out and explosions resound to commemorate the bright flash and thunderous rumble heard when Christ rose from the dead. Before the Mass begins, a festive procession with the Blessed Sacrament carried beneath a canopy thrice encircles the church. Janging handbells are vigorously shaken by altarboys, the air is filled with incense and the faithful raise their voices heavenward in a triumphant rendering of age-old Easter hymns.
Swiecone. After Easter Mass, the faithful hurry home to feast on the delicacies they saw little of during Lent. Cold dishes predominate like ham, kielbasa, roast meats, pasztat (pate), hard-boiled eggs in various sauces, salads, beet and horseradish relish (cwikla), followed by such holiday cakes as babka, mazurek and sernik. In some families the breakfast starts with a tart, whitish soup containing eggs and kielbasa, known as bialy barszcz in eastern Poland and zurek elsewhere.
Dzielenie Sie Jajkiem. Before Easter breakfast begins, members of the family consume wedges of blessed Easter eggs and exchange best wishes in much the same way as oplatek is shared on Christmas Eve.
Lany Poniedzialek. Wet Easter Monday was traditionally the day boys tried to drench girls with squirt guns, buckets of water, and much more. The girls got their chances for revenge the following day. Now things have become a free-for-all with young people drenching anyone in sight.
Smigus Dyngus. This term is now generally applied to the Easter Monday drenching custom, although originally each part of the term meant something else. Dyngus one signified a kind of house-to-house Easter trick or treating that has survived only in a few rural areas. The merrymakers often pulled along a special cart with a live or wooden rooster and received treats and drinks from the householders they visited.
Emmaus. An outdoor fair held in Krakow for centuries at Easter time. It still features stands selling toys, trinkets and food and is visited by countless Krakovians eager to get a little exercise after long bouts of feasting round the Easter table.
Gaik. Literally "little grove," this is the name of a small evergreen decorated with ribbons, flowers, possibly suspended Easter eggs that is carried house to house by singing, trick-or-treating youngsters who are given eggs and other treats by householders. The custom is now largely confined to rural areas of Opole in southwest Poland.
PACKAGE MIX EASTER SOUP (zur lub bialy barszcz blyskawiczny): Prepare instant zur or bialy barszcz (for instance: Winiary or Knorr brand — available at Polish delis) according to directions on package. Serve over sliced hard-cooked eggs.
EGGS IN MAYONNAISE (jaja na twardo w majonezie): Top hard-cooked egg halves on lettuce-lined platter with a dollop of store-bought mayonnaise. Garnish each dollop with some finely chopped chives and/or dill.
COLD SMOKED-MEAT PLATTER (pólmisek wedlin): Artistically arrange thin slices of imported Polish canned ham (and/or other boiled or baked ham), Polish canned pork loin, Polish canned Canadian bacon, krakowska (sausage), etc. Trim edge of platter with thin rounds of cooked fresh kielbasa, smoked kielbasa or hunter’s sausage. Decorate platter with sprigs of parsley, radish roses, pickled mushrooms, gherkins and or bell-pepper rings or strips.
EASY EASTER SALAD (latwa salatka wielkanocna): In salad bowl combine 2 c diced cooked potatoes, 1 c drained canned navy beans, 1 c drained canned peas & carrots, 2 peeled, cored, diced apples, 3 diced dill pickles, 2 diced onions. Sprinkle with lemon juice, salt & pepper and laced with just enough mayonnaise to coat ingredients. Chill and let stand covered over night before serving.
PAN-FRIED KIELBASA (kielbasa podsmasana): Cut fresh kielbasa, cooked the day before and refrigerated over night, into 3” or 4” servings. Place in lightly buttered or oiled skillet and brown on all sides until heated through. Serve hot with cwikla (below).
EASY BEETS & HORSERADISH RELISH (cwikla najlatwejsza): Combine 2 c coarsely grated canned, drained pickled beets with 2-3 T prepared horseradish and 1 c apple sauce. Season with salt, pepper, ground caraway, sugar and vinegar to taste. Cover and chill overnight.
WAFER-TYPE PLUM MAZUREK (mazurek cliwkowy na oplatku): Thinly spread an oplatek -type wafer (normally used for ritual sharing on Christmas Eve) with powidla (Polish plum butter). Cover with another oplatek. Spread it with powidla as well and cover with a third oplatek. Press down gently so oplatek doesn’t crack. Cover with clean dish towel and weight down with a heavy book over night. Before serving, spread top and sides with canned vanilla or chocolate icing. Cut into squares and serve.
OTHER FOODS: If you live near a Polish neighborhood, stock up on the deli items, baked goods and other Polish-style Easter treats you lack the time, energy and know-how to prepare at home.
As Rev. Czeslaw Krysa was growing up in Niagara Falls, he learned about Polish Easter traditions as a member of Holy Trinity Parish. An accomplished author and historian, he explains the meaning of each food found on the swienconka table in his 18-page booklet, "Swienconka and Dyngus Day Traditions," which was published in 1986 by OCO Press in Lewiston.
The blessed foods and their symbolic meanings are.
Traditions vary from family to family and have changed with each passing generation. Some allow children to place chocolate into the basket. A colorful ribbon and sometimes sprigs of greenery are attached, the linen cover is drawn over the top and it is ready to be taken to church or for the priests visit. The priest may also bless these items found in the Easter basket:
From "Polish American Way Recipes and Traditions" by Jacek Nowakowski.
Polish American Journal, March 1997
SUPPLIES. Medium, raw eggs at room temperature, vinegar, a small cake of beeswax, a candle (taper) in a low stand, a pisak or stylus, aniline dyes (yellow, orange, green, red, violet, brown, black) prepared in water and vinegar, a spoon, paper towels, tissues, one large and one small safety pin, a stiff wire (about 6 inches long), a small bowl, clear, glossy varnish, waxed paper.
STEP BY STEP
1. Having wiped the egg with a paper towel moistened in some vinegar, heat the metal ends of the stylus over the candle flame. The hot stylus is touched to the beeswax to form a puddle of molten wax which enters the stylus and becomes the "ink" in this batik process.
2. Write with the molten wax on the egg. Always write away from yourself, turning the egg when necessary. Wherever molten wax appears on the egg, the dye will not color it. Hence a batik process.
The egg is divided into eight sections. From each intersecting point, write a small curled cane, always working away from yourself.
3. Place in the yellow dye bath.
4. Remove from the yellow dye bath after about 10 minutes, pat dry with a paper towel. Allow the egg to set for 5 minutes.
5. Write the rungs of the ladders on the yellow egg. After completing the rungs, place the egg in the orange dye, remove and write the "teeth" on each final rung. Place into purple dye for about 10 minutes. Remove and let set until dry.
6. Hold the egg with the waxed portion next to the candle flame (not over or in the flame to avoid scorching). When the wax melts, turning shiny, quickly yet gently wipe off the molten wax with a facial tissue in one stroke. Repeat until entire egg is cleaned.
7. To preserve the egg and deepen the colors, varnish with index finger (two coats), leaving to dry on waxed paper.
8. Let stand overnight. Make a hole with a small safety pin at one end large enough to insert a thin, rigid wire. Break the yoke with the wire and scramble the contents. Make a small hole in the opposite end.
9. Gently, yet firmly, clasp the egg and blow into the smaller hole; the scrambled contents will slowly be forced out through the larger hole. Your egg is done.
The Polish language does not really have one general word for “Easter egg”. Instead the colored eggs are usually referred to as pisanki, kraszanki, malowanki, etc., according to the technique used to decorate them.
Especially beautiful are the intricately patterned pisanki, made by applying designs with a special beeswax-containing stylus or a pin or toothpick dipped in molten beeswax and then dying the eggs. After they are removed from the dye bath and dried, the wax is removed (with a cloth soaked in lighter fluid, for instance), and the white shell will shine through creating a pattern on the colored surface. To get multicolored eggs, the procedure can be repeated a number of times.
Pisanki-making kits containing detailed instructions on how to proceed are now available. A Google search will bring you several.
Solid-colored eggs are known in Polish as kraszanki. Prior to the advent of commercial egg dyes, the most common egg-coloring technique was to use onion skins which givers them eggs a reddish-brown hue of varying intensity. According to the Buffalo area’s Father Czesław Krysa, one of Polonia’s foremost Polish culture experts, here is all you need to do. Pour 6 cups of water into a pot. Add the onion skins from a five-pound bag of onions, 1 tablespoon salt and half a cup of distilled vinegar. Place 12 room-temp eggs into the water and slowly bring to boil over med heat to avoid cracking. When water boils, reduce heat and let it simmer at a gentle rolling boil several min. Remove pot from heat and cool to room temp. Remove eggs and pat dry. Rub eggs with vegetable shortening to give them a deep reddish luster.
Other solid-color kraszanki were created by boiling the following ingredients in a small amount of water until the desired hue is achieved and soaking the hard-cooked eggs in the resultant dye bath:
Other popular decorating techniques have produced drapanki, known in Śląsk (Silesia) as kroszonki. These are created by first dying the egg a dark solid color, black, navy-blue, violet and deep red give excellent results. Then (and here comes the hard part), the desired design is etched on the egg with a sharp pointed instrument. Care must be taken not to break the shell, and a steady hand and artistic flair are required to achieve good results.
Malowanki are eggs on which designs, images or inscriptions are applied with a tiny artist’s paint brush. Reeds and or colored yarn are glued onto the egg to produced oklejanki. Naklejanki are similar, except that wycinanki (folk-style paper cut-outs) are pasted onto the egg. These may sport geometric or floral patterns or a folk-style rooster, a traditional fertility symbol.
An image or inscription of choice may be applied to an egg in the pisanki (wax-writing) style or by the kroszonki (etching) technique. A favorite image is the Baranek, Easter Lamb with the banner of Resurrection. Often the year is added: Wielkanoc 2009 r. A cross is another common symbol as are the words “Wesołego Alleluja” or simply “Alleluja”. When the egg is meant as a souvenir for someone it can be personalized with some such inscription as: “Dla Kochanej Babci” (For Dear Granny).
Although a beautiful creation cannot be expected of very young children aged, let’s say, three to six, let them try their hand it at anyway, even using a magic marker. The picture they draw will be crooked and any writing will be quite shaky, but it’s the participation that counts. And babcia will probably consider it the most beautiful Easter egg she has ever seen!
Some articles on Polish Easter in the Pol-Am press, including many I myself have written over the years, deal with present-day holiday celebrations in the Old Country or the way our immigrant ancestors may have observed them before coming to America. This item will focus on incorporating various elements of our ancestral heritage into a Polish American Easter. It is unlikely that any single individual, family or group would be able to introduce all these customs and practices, but some of them may help to enrich America’s commercialized scene with some authentic traditions.
POLISH EASTER CRAFTS. There has been a growing interest in folkcrafts in recent years. and Easter-related crafts include Polish Easter palms (palemki wielkanocne), pisanki (and other type of Easter eggs), carved Easter Lambs, carved butter-lamb mold, wycinanki and even Easter motifs painted on glass. The weeks preceding Easter are a good time to hold Polish craft workshops, courses and demonstrations which, if properly conducted, are sure to stimulate additional interest. The Polish palms could be sold in front of church on Palm Sunday, the other items at an Easter fair (see below).
PALM SUNDAY OBSERVANCES. If your parish does not hold a Polish-style Palm Sunday procession, this may be the year to start one. In Polish tradition, the dried-flower rod-bouquet or many-foot-tall pole-type palms (long wooden poles festooned with paper flowers and greenery) are borne in a procession in which a life-size statue of Jesus astride a donkey is pulled along. In some places someone playing the role of Christ rides a real donkey. If such arrangements. Such pageantry is sure to stimulate both parishioner and local-media interest. If such arrangements are not feasible for whatever reason, this could be an easier-to-organize typical Eucharistic procession with the Blessed Sacrament borne in a monstrance. Wherever possible, parish banners , portable statues and holy pictures, unformed honor guards and/or a marching band playing Polish Lenten hymns will surely enhance the occasion.
PASSION PLAY. Extensive parish grounds, possibly including outdoor Stations of the Cross, would provide the ideal setting for a mobile Passion play, similar to the “Misterium Paschalne” at of Poland’s Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. The parts of the New Testament characters could be played by school children, altar servers, parish society members, etc. The Passion Play can also be performed on a stage in the parish or school auditorium. Things can be simplified (fewer rehearsals!) by having volunteers act out their parts (without spoken lines) with a single narrator describing the events. He could remind actors what they should do by saying, for instance, “At that point Simon the Cyrene was ordered to carry the cross for Jesus” or “St. Veronica came up to Jesus and wiped His face with a cloth.”
CONCERT OF POLISH SACRED MUSIC. The afternoon or evening of Palm Sunday as well as other occasions during Holy Week are a good time for a choral and/or orchestral concert of Polish sacred music (koncert polskiej muzyki sakralnej) centering on Lenten hymns and other compositions devoted to Christ’s Passion and Death. Some of the most beautiful Polish music has focused on that theme, including hymns such as “Ach mój Jezu, jak Ty kleczysz,” or “Ludu mój ludu” as well as the traditional Lenten devotion “Gorzkie zale” (Bitter Laments). Professional musicians could try their hand at performing Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” regarded as one of the world’s great Lenten oratorios. Easter Sunday evening and all throughout Easter week are the time to hold concerts of Easter music.
LENTEN RETREAT. Mass, Confession, Holy Communion and pecial sermons delivered by an experienced retreatmaster are the essence of the Lenten Retreat (Rekolekcje Wielkopostne), meant to spiritually enrich participants in preparation for Easter. These may be at one’s own parish or combined with a group pilgrimage to a retreat center, of which there are many across the United States. Religious centers with Polish roots include American Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pa., the Shrine-Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake (near Detroit), the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Merriville, Indiana, the Polish Carmelite Retreat Center in Munster, Indiana (both serving the Chicagoland Polonia) and the Pope John Paul II Center of Yorba Linda, California.
POLISH EASTER FAIR. This event, known in Polish as a “Kiermasz Wielkanocny,” is a fund-raiser that helps provide visitors with Easter-related items not readily available on America’s retail circuit. It may be confined simply to holiday artifacts or also include traditional food and baked goods. It can be held any time from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday, with the exception of Good Friday (which is far too solemn). The bazaar could feature: wicker baskets, Easter eggs (real and wooden), pisanki-making kits, Easter lambs of various size and shape (including butter -lamb molds and lamb cake pans), recorded Easter hymns, cookbooks, ham, sausage, butter lambs, bottled rye sour (zur—for making bialy barszcz and zurek), ready-made barszcz or zurek, cwikla, horseradish, rye bread, Easter Lamb cakes, babka, mazurek, sernik, pascha and kolacz.
PRE-EASTER (EDUCATIONAL) SWIECONKA. Whereas the typical Polonian Easter party known as a swieconka is held the week after Easter, the Detroit area’s well-known popularizer of Polish traditions, Don Samull, years ago pioneered what might be called an education pre-Easter swieconka. This class showcases our Polish Easter heritage through lectures, slides and the presentation of various ritual artifacts. Books, recordings and other Easter-related items are available for perusal and purchasing, and the event is rounded out with a meal of Polish Easter treats. This instructive event, which provides hints on how to observe Polish-style Easter, seems worth popularizing across our U.S. Polonia.
SHARING OUR EASTER HERITAGE. Other than holding an educational pre-Easter swieconka (above), it might require a bit less effort to give a talk, present photos, show slides and/or display artifacts to a school class, girl-scout group, craft circle, women’s club, etc. Teachers and clubs often welcome interesting guest speakers able to present ethnic cultures that are not widely known. Such a presentation could include a Polish-palm or pisanki-making demonstration. If a home-economics room or other kitchen facility is available, this could include having participants help prepare some traditional Polish Easter dishes.
THE DROWNING OF JUDAS. This old custom, usually practiced on Holy Wednesday could easily catch on with Polish American school children on the last day of school before Easter vacation. A straw-filled sack made to look like the bearded Judas, dressed in old discards is thrown from the top of a church steeple and pounced upon by youngsters with sticks and stones. The effigy is dragged through the streets and dumped in the nearest body of water amid the cheers of all present. If there is no water nearby, the effigy may be set on fire.
EASTER SHOPPING TRIP. In areas where Polish goods and foods are hard to come by, one possibility is organizing a bus, van or car-pool trip to the nearest Polonian neighborhood several days before Easter. Participants would be able to stock up at Polish markets, delicatessens, sausage shops, bakeries, gift shops, etc. traditional Polish Easter treats they lack the time and know-how to prepare. The tour could also be timed to coincide with a Polish bake sale or Easter bazaar (above) or Holy Week pilgrimage (below).
HOLY WEEK PILGRIMAGE. The same notion of an organized bus trip (above) can take on a religious dimension when held during the Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday. In the Detroit area, groups led by the late folkdance leader Michal Królewski held a Holy Thursday bus pilgrimage for decades. From various pre-arranged points, buses converge on historic St. Hyaicinth’s Roman Church for Mass and dinner, after which a half a dozen other old Polonian parishes are visited, including Hamtramck’s Holy Cross Polish National Catholic Church.
LORD’S TOMB. This traditional tableau showing Christ lying in His tomb is set up on Good Friday for adoration up until Easter. If your parish does not observe this practice or has drifted away from it, perhaps it’s time to introduce it. Persuading parish decision-makers will be easier if sufficient parishioner interest can be demonstrated. Emphasizing that this tradition is an important part of many parishioners’ religious heritage may prove to be an effective argument. Rotating honor guards round the tomb, including uniformed war veterans, scouts, parish society members, etc., enhance the tableau’s solemnity and significance.
HOLY SATURDAY FOOD BLESSING. This is undoubtedly the most popular Polish Easter custom, practiced by families in Poland and Polonians world-wide. Traditional Easter foods—eggs, sausage, ham, bread, butter (usually in the shape of a lamb), horseradish, babka, etc.—are brought to church in baskets for the ritual. The officiating priest prays over the baskets and sprinkles them with Holy Water. It is customary to pray at the Lord’s Tomb (above) and take home a bottle a freshly blessed Holy Water for the family’s use. Opinions vary, but many families believe the blessing ends the Lenten fast and the swiecone (hallowfare, blessed food) may now be sampled.
POLISH EASTER DECORATIONS. Traditional Polish Easter motifs differ somewhat from the Anglo-Germanic ones (bunnies, Easter lilies, fake grass, jellybeans, etc.) common in America. To do things up right when decorating a home, business, club, parish or community center worth remembering that typical Polish Easter plants include hyacinths, daffodils, forsythia, puss willows and such greenery as ferns, potted palms, boxwood and cranberry leaves. The colorful rod-type Easter palms are most appropriate. The prime Easter symbol is, of course, the Baranek (Easter Lamb with banner of Resurrection), not the “Osterhase” (German-originated Easter hare). The above, as well as the beautiful multicolored pisanki, should be prominently featured on posters and banners, in newspaper ads, printed programs, etc.
EASTER MORNING “REZUREKCJA” (MASS). This traditional Easter Mass takes place at daybreak, however both in Poland and Polonia in recent years some parishes have been holding it at 7:00, 8:00, even 9:00 a.m. to enable more worshipers to participate. Topography permitting, a Eucharistic procession (with the Blessed Sacrament borne in a monstrance beneath a canopy and parishioners singing Easter hymns) thrice encircles the church before Mass gets under way. The scent of incense and the jangling of altar-bells permeates the early-morning air. Marching bands playing Easter hymns, surplice-clad altar servers, parish-society members carrying religious banners, uniformed groups (veterans, scouts, etc.) all lend splendor to the procession.
Easter is one of the prominent religious observances in Poland and throughout Polonia abroad. While religious ceremonies follow the rituals of the Christian church, Easter celebrations have embedded the rich heritage of native Polish culture.
Growing up Polish in America during the prime of the Polish church – the center of the community and its culture, was a wonderful experience, rich in tradition. Like many ethnic groups, lives and customs were connected to the church and how a particular ethnicity uniquely intertwined its traditions with religion.
Easter is called Wielkanoc , which means “Great Night,” having only a religious connotation, unlike its English equivalent which originates from Ēostre, the pagan goddess of dawn, spring and fertility. In Polish tradition this is a religious holiday and there is no place for secular fantasies of chocolate and bunnies.
Easter is special with its cherished old customs. From pączki and chruściki on Shrove Tuesday, to the fragrant yeast dough for Easter babka, the aroma that came from the kitchen was magnificent.
But church services, through song and prayer, were at the forefront. Parents instilled the importance of participation and attendance of church worship during Lent: weekly Stations of the Cross and Bitter Lamentations – Gorzkie Żale.
The uniquely Polish ceremony of Gorzkie Żale consists of chanting and texts reflecting on the mystery of Christian redemption and the Passion and death of the Christ. With repetitive motifs, the service consists of evocative hymns focusing on the suffering of Christ, the soul’s lament and the dialogue of Mary with the soul.
Holy week customs date back at least 1000 years. On Holy Thursday in Poland it is the custom to visit seven churches; while in the United States the number is three. The Monstrance holding the sacred host stands prominently on the altar, and the altar boy’s church bells are replaced with the clip-clop nail-hammering sound of wooden kołatki and terkotki.
Good Friday (Wielki Piątek) is a solemn day of prayer and reflection. Some limit themselves to bread and water, and silence during a portion of the day is required. At the conclusion of the mass, the ritual of homage to Christ on the cross is enacted. A fast occurs from midnight until after the Easter basket has been blessed.
A sepulcher is often built in Polish churches and grottos, where a lifelike figure of Christ is displayed lying in the grave. Soldiers, harcerze (boy-scouts) or attendants take turns in guarding the “tomb,” which is elaborately decorated on Easter Sunday, as a remembrance of the Resurrection. In Garfield, N.J., the górale from the Podhalan Society traditionally take watch.
On Holy Saturday ( Wielka Sobota) the sternness of Lent is broken. The women of the household prepare the Easter basket and feast. All preparations had to be completed, so that the women would be free from work for the Easter celebration.
Święconka. With the ancient custom of Święconka, the food is blessed with holy water by a priest, who would either come to the house, or samplings of dishes would be taken to church for a communal blessing.
A basket is decorated with green parsley, flowers, and sprigs of pussy willow or boxwood (bukszpan), with a ribbon woven through the handle, and covered with a lace or embroidered doily. The basket traditionally contains: a Paschal lamb — baranek wielkanocny made of butter, cake or sugar and carrying in a cross-balanced position, a small banner sometimes with the letters IHS (representing the lamb of God); hand painted and decorated eggs — pisanki (the symbol of new life); meat (signifying prosperity); horseradish (a bitter herb, signifying the suffering of Christ); salt (a Polish tradition of welcome and hospitality); greenery (the awakening of the earth); and bread/babka (a symbol of communion and the Last Supper). This would ensure a good harvest and sufficient amount of food for coming year.
Pisanki. Although the ancient European art of Pisanki has become very closely associated with Easter, it first came about more than 2000 years ago when people realized the connection between the egg and spring (chickens lay more eggs in spring, when the daylight hours are long, than in fall and winter).
Decorative motifs include: the chicken and rooster (symbols of fertility), grain (good harvest), sun (light and life) and a green bough or bloom.
To produce the colors, natural dyes are used. Onion skins, buckwheat husks, campion, bark of the wild apple, leaves of birch or alder, and the flower of the lilac create yellow. For red cochineal (a female insect), deer horn, sandalwood, or beets are used. Green come from sunflower seeds and wild alder berries. Hollyhock blooms are used for certain shades, as well as various other blooms, leaves and moss. Carrots make orange, fruit of blackthorn for blue and different grasses and nettle for green.
Easter. On Saturday evening’s Easter Vigil, a fire is lit outside the church, while parishioners begin the service holding lit-candles in the darkness. The church bells are rung again following 40 days of silence. Out of the solemnity of Lent, the joyous, culturally distinctive Easter songs burst forth. Holy Water is made available to bring home.
Easter morning mass is rich in procession, incense and ritual. Under a canopy the priest, dressed in gold and white robes carries the monstrance. In many churches, young girls sprinkle rose petals along the path, and the church is overflowing.
Following Mass, the Easter breakfast takes place. Before the start of the meal, the head of the house cuts a blessed hard boiled egg into slivered segments, and offers it to each of those present at the breakfast with wishes for a long life of happiness and joy and “Wesołego Alleluja.”
While the breakfast is traditionally a cold collation of already prepared foods, the meal may have a variety of other dishes. Many Polish families make a firm “Easter Cheese,” which is a combination including farmer’s cheese and sour cream. This mixture is placed in a linen bag and tied up to dry.
The traditional biały (white) barszcz – Żur/Żurek is distinctively one of the most common soups. Thinly sliced or cubed kielbasa sausage, ham, hard-boiled eggs, horseradish root, and bread are often added to this soup commonly made with fermented rye meal.
Many Polish churches host a traditional Polish Święconka dinner in the weeks following Easter. Like Opłatek Christmas dinners it is a time to celebrate with the extended family of the Polish community. The Syrena Dancers of Milwaukee continue this tradition each year, by holding a Święcone buffet dinner on Palm Sunday at Blessed Sacrament Church Hall.
Some Polish Americans enjoy learning new Polish words, customs and concepts for self -edification, as part of exploring their ethnic roots maybe just for the fun of it. The various Easter-related traditions and motifs presented below can certainly be used for that purpose. But let’s kick things up notch and see whether and how some of them can be practically included in our family, parish and community celebrations.
by Robert Strybel
POLISH EASTER MOTIFS (polskie motywy wielkanocne): Traditional Polish Easter motifs differ somewhat from the Anglo-Germanic ones (bunnies, Easter lilies, fake grass, jellybeans, etc.) common in America. To do things up right when decorating a home, business, club, parish or community center worth remembering that the prime Polish Easter symbol is the Baranek Wielkanocny (Easter Lamb with banner of Resurrection), not the “Osterhase” (German-originated Easter hare). Although the commercial sector in today’s Poland is vigorously promoting the rabbit motif, the egg-laying pet hare of the pagan Germanic goddess Eostre has absolutely nothing to do with the Feast of Resurrection. In addition to the Baranek, the Easter greeting WESOŁEGO ALLELUJA, multicolored pisanki, colorful rod-type Easter palms and big bunches of pussywillows should be prominently featured on posters and banners, in newspaper ads, printed programs, etc. Newly born chicks and ducklings may also be included. Apart from pussywillows, typical Polish Easter plants include hyacinths, daffodils, forsythia, and such greenery as ferns, potted palms, boxwood and cranberry leaves.
PALM SUNDAY (Niedziela Palmowa): The Sunday before Easter, on which “palms” are blessed in churches, often after a procession that winds through the streets nearest the parish. If your parish does not hold a Polish-style Palm Sunday procession, maybe it’s time to start one. Bunches of pussywillows, boxwood bouquets or dried herb & evergreen rod-type bouquets are borne in procession in which a life-size statue of Jesus astride a donkey is pulled along. In some places someone playing the role of Christ rides a real donkey. Parish banners, portable statues and holy pictures, a uniformed honor guards and/or a marching band playing Polish Lenten hymns will surely enhance the occasion. Palm Sunday celebrations could also include a Palm-making contest, Polish Easter bazaar, pre-Easter buffet, craft workshop, concert of sacred music or a Polish Easter pageant (see entries below).
PALM-MAKING CONTEST (konkurs na najlepszą palmę): Due to Poland’s remoteness from subtropical palm-growing areas, a unique folk-art form has emerged. Real palm leaves, were replaced by bunches of pussywillow twigs, often tied together with boxwood or cranberry leaves and a bright ribbon. Especially colorful are the rod-type bouquets (originally known as “palmy wileńskie” or Wilno Palms), made of brightly dyed herbs and wildflowers, pussywillows and evergreen sprigs. Some communities in Poland hold annual contests for the best-looking or tallest such palms. Both in the Kurpie region of NE Poland as well as in the Tatra Mountains down south, the “palms” can be 10, 20, even 30 feet long. These are entire trees, stripped of branches and bark and decorated with evergreen garlands, ribbons and crepe-paper flowers. Although 30-foot palms might be somewhat problematic, who knows if a palm-making contest on a more modest scale might not catch on in Polonia?
POLISH EASTER BAZAAR (kiermasz świąteczny): Also known as a “Kiermasz Wielkanocny”, this is a fund-raiser that provides Polish Easter-related items not readily available at your average mall, supermarket or discount store. It can be held any time from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday, with the exception of Good Friday (which is far too solemn an occasion). Typical goods are: wicker baskets, Easter eggs (real and wooden), pisanki-making kits, Easter lambs of various size and shape (made of wood, plaster, fleece or plastic), butter-lamb molds, lamb cake pans, pussywillows, Polish “palms” (rod-type bouquets), recorded Easter hymns, cookbooks. If food is to be included, some “musts” would be: butter lambs, bottled rye-sour (żur - for making biały barszcz and żurek), biały barszcz and żurek dry soup mix (imported Polish Winiary and Knorr brands), ćwikła, prepared horseradish, kiełbasa, ham, rye bread, Easter Lamb cakes, babka, mazurek, sernik, sękacz, chałka, placek and kołacz. The bazaar might be combined with on on-site buffet (see next entry).
POLISH PRE-EASTER BUFFET (wstępne Święcone): The Syrena Dancers of Milwaukee are known for their annual Polish Easter Buffet, traditionally held on Palm Sunday and billed in Polish simply as “Święcone”. The buffet includes a deliciously prepared variety of traditional Polish delicacies and a vast selection of Polish dessert pastries. All proceeds go to Syrena’s Polish costume fund, because old costumes eventually wear out and are costly to replace with new, custom-tailored ones. Apart from the fund-raising potential, such a buffet would add a festive touch to the day’s celebrations (procession, palm-blessing) as well as providing a preview of what a Polish Easter feast is all about. Some of those attending might incorporate some of the dishes in their own families’ Easter spread, as the intervening weeks would provide plenty of time to plan and prepare. The buffet could feature on-site delicacies and take outs and possibly include a Polish Easter Bazaar (see preceding entry).
POLISH EASTER CRAFT WORKSHOP (warsztaty rękodzieła wielkanocnego): There is considerable interest these days in folk handicrafts of every type including wood-carving and quilt-making), and there is no reason why Polish items should be left out. A class or workshop focusing on Easter things might provide instruction in the handcrafting of Polish Easter palms (palemki wielkanocne), Easter eggs (pisanki, kroszonki, oklejanki, etc.), carved wooden Easter Lambs, carved wooden butter-lamb molds and wycinanki.. The weeks preceding Easter are a good time to hold Polish craft workshops, courses and demonstrations which, if properly conducted, are sure to stimulate additional interest.
EDUCATIONAL PRE-ŚWIĘCONKA (warsztaty wielkanocne): This is a combination of the above-mentioned Polish craft workshop and Easter buffet. But regardless of what it’s called, the main thing is that it can help inject a little more Polishness into our Polonian Easter scene. My good friend, the late Don Samull, pioneered what might be called an education pre-Easter Święconka. His classes have showcased our Polish Easter heritage through lectures, slides and the presentation of various ritual artifacts. Books, recordings and other Easter-related items have been available for perusal and purchasing, and the event has traditionally been rounded out with a meal of Polish Easter treats at a local Polish restaurant. If facilities such as a parish-hall kitchen or home-economics rooms were available, participants could also try their hand at preparing traditional Easter delicacies. For smaller groups, the cooking class could be held in a private home.
SHARING OUR EASTER HERITAGE (dzielenie się dziedzictwem wielkanocnym): Holding the above-mentioned courses, workshops or educational Święconkas would requires a fair amount of organizational effort, publicity and preparation. But there are also simpler ways of sharing our Polish traditions with the general community. Rather than having participants come to a given venue, the heritage promoter goes out to them. This could involve giving a talk, showing photos and slides and displaying typically Polish Easter artifacts to a school class, girl-scout group, craft circle, women’s club, etc. Teachers and clubs often welcome interesting guest speakers able to present ethnic cultures that are not widely known. Such a presentation could include a Polish-palm or pisanki-making demonstration or possibly the preparation of some traditional Polish Easter dishes. A Polish craft demonstration (palms, pisanki, butter-lamb molds, etc.) at a local mall is another possibility.
PASSION PLAY (Misterium Paschalne): This is usually a roving pageant that moves from one Passion site to another. Parishes having outdoor Stations of the Cross would be ideal, but not all 14 Stations need be re-enacted. New Testament characters could be played by school children, altar servers, parish society members, etc. The script is no problem — it’s all in the New Testament. Rather than have players memorize their lines (which requires many rehearsals), they could act out their parts (without spoken lines). A single narrator could describe such events as the Last Supper, Pontius Pilate’s judgment, Jesus carrying His cross, St. Veronica wiping Jesus’ face with a cloth, etc. on the basis of New Testament accounts. In some cases it may be more convenient to present the Passion Play on an auditorium stage.
LENTEN RETREATS (Rekolekcje Wielkopostne): Special sermons by an experienced retreat-master as well as possibly group discussions are the essence of a Lenten retreat. Usually held at church over a several-day period, each session begins with Holy Mass and participants have an opportunity to make their Easter confession. There are general parish retreats for all interested parishioners as well as group retreats addressed to men, women, teenagers, certain professions, etc. Some are held at retreat centers which provide food and lodgings for the duration. Polish religious centers in the US include American Częstochowa in Doylestown, PA, the Shrine-Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake (near Detroit), the Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa in Merriville, Indiana, the Polish Carmelite Retreat Center in Munster, Indiana and the Pope John Paul II Center of Yorba Linda, California.
CONCERT OF POLISH SACRED MUSIC (koncert polskiej muzyki sakralnej): Palm Sunday and other occasions during Holy Week are a good time for a choral and/or orchestral concert of Polish sacred music centering on Lenten hymns and other compositions devoted to Christ’s Passion and Death. Some of the most beautiful Polish music has focused on that theme, including the mournful hymns “W krzyżu cierpienie”, “Krzyżu Chrystusa”, “Stała Matka boleściwa”, “Ach, mój Jezu” and “Ludu mój ludu” as well as the traditional Lenten devotion “Gorzkie Żale” (Bitter Laments). Professional musicians could try their hand at performing Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ”, regarded as one of the world’s great Lenten oratorios. Easter Sunday evening and all the evenings of the following Easter week would be the occasion for concerts of Easter music. Favorite Easter hymns include: “Wesoly nam dzień dziś nastał”, “Zwycięzca śmierci”, “Otrzyjcie już łzy, płaczący” and the age-old “Chrystus zmartwychwstan jest”.
THE DROWNING OF JUDAS (topienie Judasza): On the last day of school before Easter (spring) vacation, this somewhat rambunctious old Polish custom could easily catch on with American school children of Polish and non-Polish ancestry alike. Usually practiced on Holy Wednesday (although in some places it is re-enacted on Holy Thursday), it involves creating an effigy of the traitor Judas. A straw-filled sack is tied at the waist, dressed in rags and made to look like the bearded Judas. Shards of broken glass symbolizing the 30 pieces of silver are sewn into the get-up. The effigy is then hurled from the top of a church steeple and pounced upon by youngsters with sticks and stones. The effigy is dragged through the streets and dumped in the nearest body of water amid the cheers of all present. If there is no water nearby, the effigy may be set on fire.
LORD’S TOMB (Grób Pański): This traditional tableau showing Christ lying in His tomb is set up on Good Friday for adoration up until Easter. If your parish does not observe this practice or has drifted away from it, perhaps it’s time to introduce it. Persuading parish decision-makers will be easier if sufficient parishioner interest can be demonstrated. Emphasizing that this tradition is an important part of many parishioners’ religious heritage may prove to be an effective argument. Rotating honor guards round the tomb, including uniformed war veterans, scouts, parish society members, etc., enhance the tableau’s solemnity and significance. It is customary for parishioners to visit the Grób Pański and say a prayer for their dearly departed loved ones after having their Easter baskets blessed in church on Holy Saturday (see next entry).
BLESSING EASTER FOOD (święcenie pokarmów wielkanocnych): A beloved custom practiced by Polish people everywhere is the blessing of Easter baskets on Holy Saturday. At times the priests visits the home, where a special święconka table has been set up. But mreo often than not, the faithful bring their Święcone (hallowfare) to church in wicker baskets of different size and shape. They contain hard-cooked plain or colored eggs, a butter or sugar lamb, sausage, ham, bread, cake, sometimes a slice if white cheese as well as horseradish, salt, pepper and vinegar. In Poland tables or set up for this purpose, parishiners set their baskets thereon and a priest comes out every 15 or 20 minutes to perform the blessing. In good weather, such tables may be set up in front of the church. In Polonia, the baskets are often set out in the aisle next to the pew or kept in the pew the whole time. Other variations also exist. But regardless of the details, the main thing is that this beautiful custom has survived around the globe, wherever Polish people are found. And it has actually captivated many non-Poles who have been exposed to it.
ŚWIĘCONKA TABLE (stolik święconkowy): In places some distance away from the nearest church or in better-to-do families, a special Święconka table is set up which the priest comes to bless. At times, neighbors bring their own hallowfare there to be blessed. The table contains all the Easter delicacies: coils of kiełbasa, a ham, perhaps a roast suckling pig with a pisanka in its mouth (instead of an apple), babkas, mazurkas and other cakes. Its centerpiece is always the Baranek or Easter Lamb which may be made of baked bread or cake dough, wood or plaster. Pussywillows, potted ferns, daffodils and other flowers add a touch of nature as does the boxwood or cranberry-leaf garlands looped around the edge of the table whose greenery stands out against the pure-white table-cloth. Such a Święconka table is always an important element and major conversation piece at community Dyngus Day and Święconka celebrations.
PHOTO WITH EASTER LAMB (pamiątkowe zdjęcie z Barankiem): One way to teach our youngsters the true meaning of Easter, is to arrange a “photo with the Easter Lamb” opportunity at your parish, Easter bazaar or Święconka party. For years to come, a youngster’s souvenir photo with a live baby lamb (or if unavailable – a stuffed or life-size wooden, plaster or papier-mâché one) would remind people that that silly, buck-toothed rabbit is not the symbol of Easter. The photo’s backdrop could read: WESOŁEGO ALLELUJA - HAPPY EASTER
EARLY EASTER MORNING MASS (Rezurekcja): This traditional Easter Mass takes place at daybreak, however both in Poland and Polonia in recent years some parishes have been holding it at 7, 8, even 9 AM to enable more worshipers to participate. Topography permitting, a Eucharistic procession (with the Blessed Sacrament borne in a monstrance beneath a canopy and parishioners singing Easter hymns) thrice encircles the church before Mass gets under way. The scent of incense and the jangling of hand-held bells permeates the early-morning air. Marching bands playing Easter hymns, surplice-clad altar servers, parish-society members carrying religious banners, uniformed groups (veterans, scouts, etc.) all lend splendor to the occasion.
PARISH "ŚWIĘCONE" BREAKFAST (święcone parafialne): In areas where families have drifted away from the festive Polish-style Easter breakfast, holding one at the parish after Easter morning Mass might be a good alternative. The traditional Polish Easter spread includes: white barszcz or żurek, hard-boiled eggs, ham, sausage, ćwikła, babka, mazurkas, etc. Butter lambs and little bowls containing 3-4 pisanki on the tables will add a festive touch. Perhaps a concert of Easter hymns by the parish choir could enhance the occasion, but the program should be kept fairly short, since most parishioners will be preparing for a big Easter afternoon dinner with their families.
POLISH SNACK AFTER EASTER MASS (przekąska po Mszy wielkanocnej): After Mass, on their way out parishioners may be offered small open-face sandwiches: a small slice of buttered rye bread, a slice of ham and/or kiełbasa, a slice of hard-cooked egg and a dollop of horseradish. This would certainly be easier to organize than a full, sit-down breakfast, but it nevertheless enables parishioners to break bread together in a symbolic community gesture ending the Lenten fast.
FAMILY ŚWIĘCONE (święcone w rodzinie): After Easter Morning Mass, families head home for the traditional Easter breakfast which like the hallowfare itself is known as Święcone (the consecrated things or blessed stuff). Before sitting down, grace is usually said (see below), after which those present each get a wedge of blessed Easter egg, sprinkled with blessed salt and pepper. After a general mutual greeting of “Wesołego Alleluja”, everyone consumes their egg wedge and the feasting begins. Unlike Wigilia, people do not break off and share pieces of egg (that would be quite messy!).
GRACE BEFORE ŚWIĘCONE (modlitwa przed święconem): Panie Boże Wszechmogący, w dniu dzisiejszym pokonana została śmierć i otworzone zostały bramy wieczności przez Twojego Jednorodzonego Syna. Pobłogosław nas tu zebranych i to święcone, które spożywać będziemy na pamiątkę Zmartwychwstania Pańskiego, abyśmy zasiedli kiedyś do uczty niebieskiej w Twoim Królestwie. Przez Jezusa Chrystusa, Pana Naszego, który żyjesz i królujesz na wieki wieków. Amen.
Lord God Almighty, on this day death has been conquered and the gates of eternity have been opened by your only-begotten Son. Bless us who have gathered here and this hallowfare which we are about to consume in memory of the Lord’s Resurrection, that we might someday take part in the heavenly feast in Your Kingdom. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
WET EASTER MONDAY (Lany Poniedziałek): The Easter Monday drenching custom, known a śmigus-dyngus appeals to Polish-American and other youngsters always eager to engage in pranks, nonsense and horseplay. It might therefore be worth popularizing as a way of generating interest in things Polish. For things not to get out of hand, the drenching might best be limited to squirt guns and squirting plastic bottles (rather than buckets). Perhaps squirting plastic eggs (created for that very purpose) may be found at some Polish specialty shop.
DYNGUS DAY (Dyngusowe Święto): In the Old Country Easter Monday was drenching day (see above) and also the time when Easter trick-or-treaters began their house-to-house rounds. Our Polonia has given the occasion its own special twist by creating Dyngus Day. Particularly in Buffalo, New York, and South Bend, Indiana, clubs, bars and halls celebrate Easter Monday as a day of feasting, drinking, playing pranks and merry-making that includes the Saint Drencher’s Day (Dzień Świętego Lejka) water-sprinkling custom. The addition of some authentic cultural touches, such as costumed folk dancers re-enacting śmigus-dyngus or Easter trick or treating, could enrich this event.
POLISH EASTER PAGEANT (widowisko wielkanocne): This presentation should showcase various aspects of Polish Easter celebrations such as palm-making, Palm Sunday processions, drowning Judas, Good Friday Adoration, egg-decorating, Easter-food blessing, mock “żur and herring” funeral, Easter Sunday Mass and breakfast, Wet Easter Monday and house-to-house Easter “caroling”. A folk-costumed dance group would be best suited to stage such a show. It could be presented as an event in itself or be included as part of such festivities as Dyngus Day and/or Święcionka parties.
POLISH-AMERICAN ŚWIĘCONKA PARTY (Święconka, Zabawa Święconkowa).: Like Polish-American Dyngus Day (above) this is another purely Polonian-originated custom Polish Easter Concert: It usually begins with the blessing of food by the officiating priest, followed by the sharing of blessed Easter eggs (a quarter of an egg per person). A traditional Polish Easter menu is most appropriate. After-meal activities might include: Easter hymn concert or sing-along; Easter folk-art demonstration (pisanki, palemki, wycinanki); and a re-enactment of Easter-related folk customs (see Easter pageant above). Egg-rolling and egg-tapping contests would keep the kids amused, and live dance music is a “must”.
“Three cheers for Notre Dame!” I found myself teaching a summer session at the “University of the Fighting Irish.”
During a class break, a cherished moment in a muggy mid-Western summer, one of the students said, “You’re Polish, aren’t you?”
“Why, yes,” I responded.
“Do you know they are sponsoring some kind of Polish Easter celebration at the faculty club—music, food and all?” the student continued. “They call it ... something beginning with a ‘D’ ... Din ... Ding ...”
“Dyngus Day!” I responded “but in July?”
After the initial surprise, a group of us made reservations with much curiosity and some suspicion. Dyngus Day at Notre Dame? In July? What a combination!
That day, the “Fighting Irish” became Poles at heart. The food was somewhat traditional, although I had to request horseradish. A local band came in from South Bend and played until around midnight.
At that Midwest Dyngus, I was told that South Bend celebrates the day after Easter annually. South Bend dubbed itself the “Dyngus Day Capital of the World.” Hailing from Buffalo, I told them not to be so sure of that status. Buffalo surely gives South Bend some stiff competition for the honor.
(Right) In Limanowa, Poland, dziady śmigustne or słomiaki — wearing high hats and outfits braided from straw — go through the village in silence asking for offerings. Those who refuse are doused much like they have for centuries, albeit without the aid of a fire hose, as here in 1988.
DYNGUS. WHAT DOES THE WORD MEAN? Each year, various definitions, interpretations and guesses appear: anything from switching with branches to the infamous “Sadie Hawkins Day.”
I did some research on the etymology of the word. According to the Encyclopedia Staropolska, by A. Gloger (circa the 19th century), the word can be traced back to a medieval form of the word “Dingnus,” which means “worthy, proper, or suitable.” Gloger cites a use of the word, namely “ransom during a war to protect against pillage,” as well as a German usage of “Dingen,” which means “to come to an agreement, evaluate or buy back.”
The Deutsches Worterbuch traces the meaning of the word as it appears in German from the 16th century to the present as ranging from “hope” to “bringing a case before court” to “coming to the service of another” to “applying for a job” or “bicker over a price.”
ANCIENT PAGAN ORIGINS. Many of our Polish customs date back to pre-Christian practices of our Slavic ancestors. The custom of pouring water is an ancient spring rite of cleansing, purification, and fertility. The same is true of the complimentary practice of switching with pussy willow branches, from which Dyngus Day derives its cognomen “Smigus”—from “smiganie”—switching.
The pagan Poles bickered with nature—“dingen”—by means of pouring water and switching with willows to make themselves “pure” and “worthy” for the coming year. Similar practices are still present in other non-Christian cultures during springtime.
MIESZKO’S BAPTISM. Since 966 A.D., and the baptism of Prince Mieszko I, the Church literally “baptized” and accepted these customs, raising them to a level of grace as well as giving them a new and more profound meaning than in the pagan Slavic culture. Other examples of such “baptism” in Polish tradition include the blessing of Easter baskets, “Wigilia” at Christmas, St. John’s Eve—“Sobotka,” and Pentecost—Zielone Swiatki, and a host of others.
During the years of the first Millennium of Christianity, baptisms were celebrated exclusively during the Easter season, particularly Holy Saturday and the Octave of Easter. Tradition states that Prince Mieszko I along with his court were baptized on Easter Monday. Thus, Dyngus Day and its rites of sprinkling with water have become a folk celebration in thanksgiving for the fact that the first king of Poland was baptized into Christianity, bringing Catholicism to Poland.
American Polonia has a great cause for celebration in both music and ritual on Dyngus Day, for this day marks the beginning of Roman Catholicism in Poland, the reason that we are today of Catholic faith!
Drawing on the significance of the words mentioned above, it may be said that on this day, Dyngus Day, our ancient ancestors “bickered”—“dingen” with God to make us “worthy”—“dingus” through the waters of baptism, and were thus “bought back or redeemed” by Christ.
WEALTH OF SYMBOLS. From the wealth of symbolism of this day, our ancestors drew some other related and not-so-related meanings. One of the moving stories was the Legend of the Polish Princess Wanda, who was said to have drowned herself in the Wisla River rather than marry a German nobleman she did not love. Today, one of the three mounds in the city of Krakow is dedicated in her honor. For this reason, girls are doused with water to immortalize the memory of Princess Wanda.
Another extrapolation of the Dyngus custom is related to the Resurrection. It is said that the unbelievers in Jerusalem dispersed the followers of Christ—who were spreading the news of the Resurrection on the streets of Jerusalem—by splashing them with water.
Following the somber and reflective season of Lent, the second day of Easter, Dyngus is an appropriate time to celebrate the wealth of our heritage in ritual, song and dance. The emergence of Dyngus Day celebrations, even during the blistering heat of a mid-Western “Irish” summer and throughout the United States, is an attempt by our Polonia to celebrate and rediscover its history. Dyngus Day, along with other festivals, allows us to unearth the bountiful treasurers of our culture and pass on a sense of “who we are” in this pluralistic nation of many, many such stories of origins.
On a Holy Saturday morning in my youth: dressed up in fine clothes, my brother and I prepared to bring our first Easter basket to church to be blessed at the parish Święconka. My mother and father assembled and arranged the contents according to tradition and upon entering the church hall; we were introduced to an ancient Polish ritual and what would become an annual commitment. With each year, the baskets became more elaborate, and eventually embodied the full extent of the custom. Extended family members living four hours away had the privilege to have visits from the parish priest, who would travel from house-to-house to personally bless the Easter table and leave with an envelope in hand.
Two sisters made our family complete, and each year a basket was blessed in either location. As the years went by and elder relatives passed away, celebrations centered at our hometown. Then the Polish parish was closed, and the observance was relocated to a church of merger.
The American priest welcomed this tradition – one he had never heard of. With Polish blessings translated into English by our displaced Polish pastor, the custom continued, and American baskets containing chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps, and jelly beans were added. The Polish choir sang, as many parishioners looked in fascination at the odd Polish baskets filled with lambs made from butter or sugar, intricately decorated eggs, sausage, ham, smoked bacon, twaróg white cheese, babka, bread, horseradish, salt, a candle, and water to be blessed. Unlike the other baskets with cellophane grass, these baskets were decorated with fresh flowers, pussy willows, ribbons, and sprigs of greenery and covered with white eyelet embroidered doilies.
The cherished Święconka tradition is one of many Easter traditions that are identifiable and unique to Polish Catholicism.
Palm Sunday— Niedziela Palmowa. The last Sunday of Lent – the beginning of Holy Week, is also known as Kwietna or Wierzbna, and begins a series of important rituals and ceremonies directly connected to the celebration of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.
Around the world, people bring palms to church to be blessed to commemorate Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, where he arrived with his disciples for the Passover before his crucifixion. Palm trees, not indigenous to Poland, are substituted with greenery found in the fields as a representation. In many areas vertical bouquets and posies are made of pussy willow – considered to be a plant loving life since it grows in the worst conditions. Other areas use evergreen branches of arborvitae, spruce, boxwood, and yew. This greenery is attached to a pole or branch and then carried to church. Since flowers are not in bloom, artificial ones are made from tissue and crepe paper and fastened between the tall, green branches. Tall and stately, the palmy can reach 6 to 10 feet in height. A longest palm competition is held in Łyse in the Kurpie region.
Popular are the “palms” from Wilno (now in Lithuania) that take the shape of slender colored bouquet-sticks (wałki). Of varying height and thickness, they are intricately arranged with dried flowers, and spikes of various grasses and mosses. They are now known throughout the country.
Although the blessing of decorated “palms” is administered in the church memory of Christ’s entrance, the palms themselves have another semi-magical meaning in the countryside, where the Easter period is the rich setting of pagan spring feasts.
In many homes the palm is placed over a sacred image or above the front door to protect against fire and all evil. Early in the morning on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday in southern Poland (particularly in the Sącz and Rzeszów areas) particles of palm or palm crosses, along with blessed eggs are placed or buried in the fields and garden to bless and defended them from the hail and pests.
Jezus Palmowy or Jezus Lipowy is a celebration held in the village of Tokarnia near Myślenice, where a figure of Christ riding a donkey is placed on a cart and transported in festive procession. The custom was popular between the 15th and 18th centuries, especially in Kraków where the cart was pulled by the most prominent citizens, town councilors and the wealthy burghers. Accompanying crowds shouted “Hosanna,” and threw flowers and pussy willow branches under the wheels of the trolley. Eventually this turned into a raucous party with the rejoicing becoming disruptive; carriage figurines were banned by Church authorities in 1781, and the custom was abandoned. After a two hundred year break, it was revived by a local priest in Tokarnia and has enriched the spectacular celebrations in this village.
Groups of young men and boys go from door-to-door in the villages of the Kraków region beating rhythms with sticks and delivering humorous, senseless rhymed orations. They collected donations of eggs for the forthcoming Easter, coins, and sometimes pastries. Known as Pucherocy, they are disguised with their faces painted black and wear high conical straw-plaited hats trimmed with colorful ribbons, a straw corded sash and carry a walking-stick and an alms basket. The name derives from the Latin puer for “boy.”
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of preparations for Easter. Holy Week is “cleaning week.” Through fasting and prayer, bodies and spirits are prepared, and it is an intense week of cleaning, baking and cooking.
Holy Thursday — Wielki Czwartek. Also known as Święta Kapłanów (the feast of the priests), this day is known for when the sacrament of the priesthood was instituted at the Last Supper. Everything is known except the twelve feet that will be washed in a reference to the gesture of Jesus, who washed the feet of his twelve disciples. There is the consecration of oils; all bells are silenced following “Gloria” and replaced by kołatki (wooden hammer or rotating rattle boxes) as a sign of mourning, but also representing the betrayal of Judas; the organ is not played; and at the end of the Mass the altar is stripped bare. Dark matins cover religious artifacts and statues, and all candles are extinguished. Traditionally, the organ is silent from Holy Thursday until the Easter Vigil, as are all bells or other instruments; the only music during this period being unaccompanied chant.
Priests would hit the altar top as a sign of the chaos that followed when the Roman soldiers captured Christ leaving the disciples terrified. This high rite was an excuse for young boys prone to mischief, and who could hardly endure the Lenten seriousness to run through the streets making noise with their own kołatki and by banging sticks on fences and gates.
A straw or stuffed effigy of Judas with thirty pieces of broken glass in his pocket (symbolizing the thirty pieces of silver) was hung, or thrown from the church tower where onlookers would catch the figure and wander through the streets shouting “Judasz!” The effigy is beaten until completely destroyed; the remains are burned or thrown into a pond or river.
Good Friday — Wielki Piątek. Holy Friday is the day of deepest mourning and a strict fast is observed. Traditionally a time of silence and prayer is observed from noon until 3:00 p.m. In church during afternoon service, a coffin with a cross and surrounded by candles is prominently displayed, and a ceremony of adoring and kissing the Cross is observed at the conclusion. At Stations of the Cross the martyred Christ is offered to the grave. 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. Honor guards (Turki Wielkanocne) consisting of local fraternities, students, scouts and even the army keep watch in shifts through the night.
It was thought to be a good day for planting seeds – a reference to the Gospel about the seeds which must be planted in the ground to bear fruit as a metaphor for Christ’s necessary death and his burial on this day.
Staged events of the Passion often occurred, along with a procession accompanied by kapnicy who publicly scourged their bare backs and shoulders. Their faces were covered with hoods with holes cut for eyes, nose and mouth. This custom was abandoned in the last century, but the Mystery Plays are staged at several shrines (including Kalwaria).
It is believed that on this day, water has healing properties. Before sunrise in rivers or lakes, baths were taken scrubbing carefully to insure a year free from hand, foot and mouth pain.
Not only was there abstention from meat dishes, but also a single meal fast. The devout voluntarily refrained from eating and drinking, or would drink only water and eat dry bread.
Preparations and Pisanki. Good Friday is a day of very intensive preparation in the households, particularly with regards to the preparation of the decorated eggs, the cleaning, cooking and baking. All Easter delights should be ready as early as Friday and at the latest before noon on Holy Saturday.
In many cultures, the egg is a symbol of life. The earliest painted eggs found on Polish territories date from the 10th century, and were found in archeological sites in the vicinity of Opole and Wrocław. The egg is a part of ancient fertility rites. In Christian faith, it is interpreted as a representation of Christ Resurrected.
Eggs, dyed in different colors and decorated with a pattern, constitute a remarkable example of ritual art and are a beautiful element of the Polish Easter table decoration. Drapanki or skrobanki are made with an engraving technique based on scratching out a pattern with a sharp tool on a previously dyed egg. The batik technique sketches out a design on the egg shell with a very thin funnel instrument (pisadełka) by applying heated beeswax. The egg is then dipped in a dye and finally the wax is removed. A multicolor design is obtained by covering the egg with wax in multiple stages. Between stages the egg is dipped in different color dyes, beginning with the brightest color, and so on. Ancient patterns include solar signs, rosettes, cross, pin-wheel, and tree of life. The eggs are generally called pisanki.
Colored Easter eggs without pattern are called kraszanki, malowanki, or byczki. They were once made from natural plant dyes: oak bark, walnut shells, alder cones (black); scales of onion (shades of yellow and brown), beet juice (pink); mallow flowers (purple); nettle (green); elderberry berries (red); carrot, pumpkin (orange); blackthorn berries (blue).
In Kurpie and Podlasie regions, oklejanki or wyklejanki eggs are decorated by applying bulrush and strands of yarn. Popular in Łowicz are naklejanki or nalepianki – decorated with petals of elderberry, colorful paper, wycinanki cut-outs, and patches of cloth.
Holy Saturday — Wielka Sobota. The blessing of water, fire, thorns and food takes place on this day. The mother of the family or an older child carries a basket filled with Easter offerings to be blessed by the parish priest. Holy water for home use can be taken from the church.
Historically, only the rich had food blessed in their homes, while the poorer rural and urban population wrapped food and traveled to churches, where the priest blessed them. The poorest brought only bread, salt and eggs. The richer set their entire tables to be blessed directly. In rural areas, the size and contents of a basket was a matter of pride and standing in the community.
In Poland, blessing of the baskets is a practice dating to the 15th century or earlier, and one which is still maintained by Polish families today. The Easter lamb made of butter, sugar, pastry, marzipan, clay, plaster, blown glass, or wood stands for Jesus, the Paschal lamb. The hard -cooked eggs symbolize new life or Christ rising from his tomb. Bread represents the bread of life given by God. Meat and sausages are symbols of the resurrected Christ, horseradish acknowledges accepting the bitter with the sweet in life. Salt is to add zest to life and preserve us from corruption.
Liturgically speaking, Holy Saturday lasts until 6:00 p.m. or dusk, after which the Easter Vigil is celebrated. The service begins with a fire and the lighting of the new Paschal candle. During the “Gloria,” the church statues and icons, which had been covered during Passiontide, are dramatically unveiled, the organ plays and bells ring once again.
Easter Sunday — Niedziela Wielkanocna, Święto Zmartwychwstania Pańskiego. The celebration begins with a solemn Resurrection Mass, followed by Easter breakfast (Święcone). It was imperative that every member of the family have a taste of all the blessed foods and tradition forbids women to cook during this day, so all the food is prepared during the week before.
The table is covered with a white cloth and the centerpiece is the Easter lamb (angusek from the Latin angus). The custom of setting the table with a lamb holding a red flag was introduced in the sixteenth century by Pope Urban V in the 16th century. Today, a Polish red and white banner is sometimes used.
A single blessed egg is divided and shared with each person at the table to ensure health, happiness and prosperity. Biały barszcz (white soup) is served with hard-boiled eggs and often meats, white cheese and horseradish from the Easter basket are added. A variety of sausages, sliced cold meats and roasted meats are served, along with side dishes such as: pickled mushrooms (grzybki marynowane) and beet and horseradish relish (ćwikła). Cakes include mazurka – a decorative, flat cake covered with almond paste and other nuts, colorfully iced and decorated with jam, nuts and raisins, sernik cheesecake, and in southern regions – piróg cake with a rice or kasza filling.
The traditional tall babka egg bread, which is baked in a scalloped form, is wonderfully light with a slightly sweet flavor. Using a similar recipe is the paska bread with its intricately-crafted braided top. In Podlasie and southern regions, a sponge cake known as sekacz is baked above a flame on a rotary spit. As a result of pouring layers of dough on the spit, its spikey form resembles a pine tree.
Traditional games using eggs are enacted such as: rolling eggs on the table, or walatka or wybitka – gently tapping the eggs thus scoring points and wins, for the longest period without a crack. A hill rolling game occurred in Upper Śląsk; while in Śląsk and Pomorze, according to German custom, baskets were prepared with surprises for the children.
Easter Monday – Poniedziałek Wielkanocny. The second day known as Lany Poniedziałek (Wet Monday) or Śmigus-Dyngus is a favorite among younger people. Breaking from the solemnity of Lent, youths find ways to douse each other with water. Some believe this originated in pagan times, while others derive it from the baptism of Poland in 966. Śmigus dyngus starts at the break of dawn. Traditionally, only men doused girls with water. Maidens soaked on that day would have a greater chance of getting married that year. It is essentially a marriage of two old Easter rites. “Dyng” meant redemption; “Śmigus” (a word probably of German origin) was to hit one another with green branches, and douse with water.
Various local customs became connected to Easter Monday. Just like caroling at Christmas, chodzenie po dyngusie meant traveling from house-to-house, reciting verses of the Passion, singing, and expecting a donation.
In Kraków, Emmaus established in memory of the walk of the apostles on the road to Emmaus with the risen Christ. Processions of religious brotherhoods carry a statue of the risen Christ holding a red banner. Also in the vicinity, men smeared with soot walked along country roads and city streets hooking arms, holding, or kissing those passing by. On Tuesday, residents meet on the right bank of the Wisła River, where the townspeople with their own hands once heaped the grave of Krak in a custom is called Rękawka.
Siuda Baba refers to the rites of spring, and the legend of a pagan temple in Lednica near Wieliczka where a priestess, who guarded the fire in it, would go out once a year in search of successor. She is black with soot, as the year-round duty had not afforded her time to wash. This custom is now preserved with a man dressed as a disheveled woman in tattered clothes. He carries a large cross in hand, strings of beads made of chestnuts or potatoes around his neck, and a large basket on his back wrapped in a sheet.
In Kujawy there is przywoływek dyngusowych, where at dusk on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday morning, boys affiliated with the Stowarzyszeniu Klubu Kawalerów (Bachelors’ Club) walk in procession to the village square with a large orchestra. On a platform, high tree, or the roof of the inn, they recite verses about the local girls. Praising or ridiculing them, they accept how much water will be shed to secure a meeting with a girl or to protect her from malicious mischief.
In the southern Małopolska area, mainly in the area of Limanowa, men disguisers called dziady śmigustne or słomiaki wore high hats and outfits braided from straw and went through the village in silence asking for offerings. As according to legend – emissaries who did not want to believe in the resurrection of Christ and proclaim the good news, lost their voices as a punishment. In the area of Mielec silent mówiące beggars pour water from containers with wishes for a good harvest.
In central Poland — Rawa Mazowiecka, Lowicz, Sieradz and Łęczyca, and also in the Śląsk and Wielkopolska regions, kurkiem po dyngusie is observed. A clay or stuffed rooster is placed on a decorated red two-wheeled cart. In ancient times a live rooster was sacrificed to the deities of fertility and harvest. Kurcarskie celebrations are held in the spirit of courtship and intended to promote the pairing of young couples to provide descendants. The rooster for centuries has been a symbol of strength, beauty and masculinity. Songs and jokeswere rewarded with eggs, sausage, cakes and money.