Easter in Poland
While every day is a new learning experience of the Polish culture, participating in the Easter traditions was among the most rewarding and fruitful. We began Good Friday by not eating meat. With most of the Polish country being Catholic, when I explain the traditions and events of the holiday, the religious and cultural customs will be intertwined. Refraining to eat meat on Good Friday is a Catholic practice. In an unrelated note regarding this particular Friday, Marcin and I celebrated our one year of dating. It is worth mentioning that on our celebratory date, we did not eat meat. 🙂
On Saturday, Marcin’s mother prepared baskets filled with eggs, meat, sweets, and other edible items to portray the year’s meals. It is the duty of the youngest to carry the basket to the church and have the contents blessed. I was given a basket along with Marcin’s nephew, Filip, who just turned four years old. We made the short walk as a group – Marcin, Filip & his parents, and I. One element I enjoy about Poland is the involvement in traditions. There is much consistency and mass involvement in customs. I saw this element on the walk to church. There were many families making the walk – all with the youngest, basket in hand, leading the way.
The churches, in preparation for the amount of people, preform the short blessing service every 30 minutes. We arrived just in time to squeeze into the last remaining pew spaces about two minutes to 3 PM. The priest came out, said a short prayer and sermon, and then put water into a large bowl. When told that the priest would bless our baskets with water, I wasn’t sure how I expected him to do it so I was watching with very curious eyes. I must admit that when he lifted a small straw broom, I was both surprised and nervous. The broom was about two feet long with handle and looked like a mini version of the wicked witches’ flying broom. The priest started with one side of the aisle, dipped the straw in water, flicked it in the direction of one pew at a time, and re-wet every 2 or 3 pews.
I was on the side of his return so this allowed me ample time to watch the first row of reactions as the water splashed. It took me only a few seconds to realize that Marcin had tactically placed me on the aisle, therefore, serving as his splash guard. When the priest made his way to our pew, he flicked the freshly dipped broom and I was blessed straight in the face – I am impressed with the amount of water the little broom can absorb. Fortunately for my short height, Marcin was able to receive some blessing too.
After our short lived shower, the group began to exit. Some formed small groups outside the church and others began to walk home. I discovered quickly what the small groups intent of gathering was when our small group stopped as well. After the blessing, all food in the basket is free game, including the meat. Many of the basket carriers were the youngest in the family and not accompanied by their parents, so they took the opportunity to indulge in some of the tasty contents. It was a tasty treat for the walk back to Marcin’s parents where we ate one of my favorite traditional soups, Zurek.
Easter Sunday took my stomach’s capacity to a level it has never been before – and it loved every bite of it. Breakfast began at 11 am at Marcin’s parent’s house. Extended family such as his grandmother and uncle came along with his sister’s family who we had shared the basket activity with the previous day. The table was filled with two meat platters, numerous salads (in America would be considered cold casseroles), eggs, different sauces, and bread. Marcin’s mother began the meal by passing around a sliced egg that had been in the blessed baskets from the day before. Each guest took one and ate it in anticipation of being blessed with ample food for the coming year.
We drank small glasses of wine with brunch and toasted often. My favorite dishes were the salads – they included many different ingredients such as corn, pineapple, potato, carrot, apple, etc mixed with a sweet mayonnaise. I was encouraged often to try every type of meat and salad so you can understand my comment of expanding my stomach’s capacity. It was all so tasteful! One mistake I made was assuming the horse radish sauce was…well, NOT horse radish sauce. I put too much on some bread with meat and WOW – it was very, very fresh (my nose is burning right now as I think about it).
In an effort to share my traditions with those who are sharing theirs, I prepared an American Easter basket for Filip. Thanks to the care packages sent by my family, I was able to include pop rocks, ring pops, balloon on a string, and a Pez dispenser. Marcin’s father took the liberty of hiding the basket and we sent Filip on a game of “hot and cold” to find the basket. This was a learning experience for me because I had to tell him “hot” or “cold” in Polish. The pop rocks were an interesting addition to the Easter brunch as they do not have this candy in Poland. This meant that the whole family, including grandma, tried the exploding candy with curiosity.
After it looked like most of the family was done eating the brunch, we cleared the table and set out different varieties of dessert along with tea and coffee. There were cakes, cheesecakes, breads, etc. Marcin’s grandmother brought a cheesecake that was cooked in a coal stove and perfected with 85 years of experience. It was very delicious! We finished eating around 2:30 PM (three and a half hours of eating).
The last tradition I must comment on because I find it the most interesting. On the Monday following Easter, it is tradition for girls to be splashed with water. I was warned about this custom by the other ladies in my office, so I knew what to expect. I was told stories from their pasts on being covered in water from boys who had water balloons on the street, water guns, and even a bath tub dunking story. These stories caused me to be on guard Monday morning when I heard Marcin filling a cup of water in the kitchen. Luckily, he was nice and simply sprinkled me with water for the tradition’s sake.
The holiday is when I really felt the distance between my family and me. It was really when I thought the most about home – mostly the tastes and atmosphere of Easters in the past. While I miss my family, I really appreciate having a family here to share in their traditions with!