What a funny word – Święconka! Śmingus-Dyngus even funnier. What is all that? Welcome to the world of the Polish Easter traditions!
This year I decided that it’s time for a traditional polish Easter celebration with my family. I grew up in Germany but my family kept the original polish traditions during Christmas and Easter. I really appreciate them and after having spent the last 4 Easter in Spain, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Sicily, it was time to go ‘back to the routes’.
We are all so different
Don’t get me wrong I really enjoyed my Eggs Benedict for brunch in Kiwiland and the amazing food served by the family of my Sicilian friends. I enjoyed observing how Italian kids open the huge chocolate Easter Eggs filled with toys and sweets and I loved the digestive walk on Etna. I also really loved eating amazing soup dumplings in Hong Kong. But something was missing during those years…
The Easter traditions vary from country to country. I have friends around the world and I figured not many people know about the polish Easter celebrations. Most of the people seem to know about the Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain and the many celebrations, processions, customs and traditions linked to it… Everyone knows about Guatelama’s beautiful Alfombras (carpets made out of flowers) and about the famous Good Fridays processions in Malta where the streets of the Maltese villages seem to be open-air theatres playing the crucifixion walk of Jesus.
Poland being (also) a religious country is still very attached to the Roman Catholic traditions and celebrations. We don’t have processions but we have other things. We have ‘Święconka’, ‘Pisanki’ and ‘Śmingus-Dyngus’. What is all that, are you asking ? Let me explain…
The Polish Easter Traditions step by step
Easter has always been an important annual event for Polish people. It basically starts with the Popielec (Ash Wednesday) where we go to the church and have our foreheads marked with a little ash-cross. This is the beginning of the 40 days of Lent – a time of repentance and self-denial, where people try to stay calmer (no parties!) and limit the consumption of things they like the most (specific food, alcohol, meat…). It’s about self-discipline.
Then, before the Holy Week starts we clean! This is a very important activity in Polish households. Some people call it ‘spring cleaning’. We take all the cups from the cupboards, all the books from the bookshelves and we dust, wash, scrub… Are we cleaning ‘our soul’? Is it symbolic? No idea but the BIG CLEANING is a must in Poland!
On Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) we prepare special palms made of willow branches and decorated with colourful feathers and dried flowers (they can vary from region to region) and we take them to church for a blessing. The palms are supposed to protect the houses for the following year and are burned by the church in a collective fire. Their ash will be used on Ash Wednesday of the following year.
Easter Basket? What is that?
The most important component of Polish Easter is the święconka! What is behind that strange word? ‘Święcić’ means to bless. Święconka therefore is something blessed. In that case it is a basket with food – or rather symbolic pieces of food – which the families take to the church on Saturday for the blessings. The basket usually contains eggs, bread, cake (babka), ham, sausage, salt & pepper and of course eggs! But the prominent position in the basket takes the baranek – a lamb made of butter (in Poland you can buy the lamb-shaped wooden casting box which serves only and especially for this occasion!). The basket is pretty decorated with white serviettes and willow branches.
Pisanki, kraszanki, drapanki, oklejanki… – Easter Eggs!
The eggs are very special! It is THE symbol of Easter! They are not just ‘eggs’ but pisanki – eggs previously painted in different colours and designs. The biggest fun for kids (and mums). There are even variations of them – different ways of decorating them – that’s why the various names. The eggs can be painted by hand (pisanki or malowanki) or coloured by boiling the eggs in coloured water (kraszanki). The fancier ones are painted first and then decorated by scraping different patterns onto them (drapanki) or even decorated with coloured paper and dried flowers (oklejanki).
Niedziela Wielkanocna – Sunday Brunch
Easter Sunday is the most important day. Polish families come together and celebrate their traditional Easter brunch. All the goods from the basked (blessed on the previous day) are shared by the head or the family and consumed first (some families speak a little prayer – kind of like the polish pendant to the american Thanksgiving). Then the rest of the many dishes follows. Typically for a polish family meal there is a lot to eat. The most important ‘dish’ on that day are the eggs! Served in many different variations. Traditional is also żur (kind of sour rye soup), ćwikła (horseradish mixed with beetroot) and mazurek (sweet, flat cake).
Where is the Bunny?
After the meal, it’s time for presents! Polish children believe that it’s the Easter Bunny who brings them presents (I have no clue about the religious background here). It’s fun because the kids have to find them first! ‘The Bunny’ was here, left you something hidden somewhere, either in the house or in the garden and scuttled off. Now go and find it kids! Exciting !
Śmingus-Dyngus or Lany Poniedzialek
On Easter Monday there is a rather strange celebration being performed in Poland to close the Easter period. I don’t actually have any explanation for it, however, the whole thing is a but cruel on ladies: Men/boys throw water over the girls! Yes! Exactly! If they are ‘nice’ they may use a glass of water or a water gun. In the villages it’s even more harsh because they use large water buckets! Ladies stay at home because your makeup and your hairdo will be ruined!
Do you want to know more about polish traditions and celebrations? My article about a typical polish Christmas in Germany might be something for you.
PS: I know, the last one was weird… But hey, so is the ‘the Herring’s funeral’ in Ireland! I heard that after eating fish during the long time of the Lent people are so fed-up of it, that (as a joke) they organise a ‘funeral’ for the herring! Sounds fun and I’m intrigued. I guess next Easter Ireland might be calling…