In an attempt to make this feel like a holiday, I've instituted some plans for Cameron and I. Last weekend, we painted eggs and now have them hanging on our (long dead) Christmas tree. I also bought an obscene amount of candy which we will divvy up and hide around the house for each other to find. For Easter dinner, we are going to pull out the fondue pot again (another Christmas leftover) and dress up in fancy clothes (read: bridesmaids dress for me and bowtie for Cameron). There's going to be a lot of baking this weekend, and as I write this on Saturday morning the first creation (sourdough biscuits) are in the oven.
These plans are clearly not perfect models of any country's Easter traditions (hidden candy is typically encased in plastic eggs in the United States and I'm pretty sure I picked up the egg painting from German traditions, but Easter fondue is not a thing I've ever heard of), but they were the best I could come up with to make the holiday special. Clearly we won't be having a Polish Easter this year, but nonetheless I wanted to learn about the Polish Easter traditions so that way I have something to look forward to next year.
I should have suspected that Easter rituals would encompass a full week of activities (referred to as Holy Week or Great Week). According to Culture.pl the preparations start the week leading up to Easter with Palm Sunday and spring cleaning. That explains why I've seen so many of my neighbors washing their windows this week! I just assumed people were getting stir crazy and window washing was a good way to feel productive while still getting to stand in the sun on your porch.
Palm Sunday seems to be as much of a celebration to welcome the onset of spring as it does to be a religious celebration. According to SpotAHome.com, families and school children make their own palms out of "lush branches of boxwood, catkins, dyed herbages, paper flowers, ribbons, dried flowers," and just about anything else that can be found. If it weren't for mandates to stay home, we would presumably find colorful stalls around Krakow's market square selling pre-made palms to the less crafty folks. The colorful creations are then paraded around after mass, similar to the Three Kings Day processions that happen around Christmas time.
On Thursday, priests and bishops at many cathedrals nationwide, including Krakow's Wawel Cathedral, wash the feet of 12 elderly men in a nod to the last supper. Then during Friday mass a Jesus sculpture is placed into a grave where he lays among flowers and candles until his resurrection on Sunday.
Saturday is the fun day, because it's filled with egg dying and food prepping. Although some people do egg painting and egg scratching (dipping eggs into hot wax and then scratching patterns into them), egg dying seems to be most common decorating approach and is done similarly to the US. You hard boil some eggs then drop them into the store-bought dye concoction for a few minutes. I think Cameron had only dyed eggs before, for he was a little bamboozled by the fact that you can use the natural egg color as the base when egg painting. He insisted in fully covering his eggs with a base coat of paint, to which I was of course snippy about because I didn't want him wasting my paints unnecessarily.
When I was last at the store (buying my hoards of candy) there were lots of chintzy Easter decor. The dye packages of course, plus a wall of rabbit and chick statues, decorative eggs and grass, and a stack of small woven baskets. "Pretty much the same as the US," I thought, "just with less basket space for the candy." I didn't realize that the Easter baskets aren't used as candy-collective devices, but rather are filled with Easter foods that are brought to the church to be blessed. The baskets are decorated and filled as you please, but having a piece of sausage, bread, salt, pepper, hard-boiled eggs, and a sugar lamb sculpture are staples. Nick Hodge, another Krakow blogger, notes that sometimes children sneak pet treats into the baskets, too. These baskets are taken to be blessed on Saturday, but cannot be touched until the following morning.
I suppose it goes without saying that food is an important staple of the holiday. From what I can tell, there is a small fuss put into family dinner that night, but it's Easter breakfast that is the main celebratory meal (I suppose you want to eat the blessed basket food as soon as possible!) To start off the meal, everyone takes a small slice of the blessed egg(s) and exchanges well wishes with their family members. After that, you feast! The blessed food is supplemented with a variety of other traditional dishes. It seems like there is nothing more Polish than soup, for there seems to be at least one type of soup found on most families breakfast menus. Various cakes also make regular appearances on the Easter table. I showed Cameron a picture of some of the Easter cakes hoping he would feel inspired to bake one, but he just said "look at those cakes!" Maybe next year.
How about all of those dyed eggs? Those which aren't eaten at breakfast are enlisted for egg fighting! The rules, according to KidsInTheCity.pl, first require that everyone chooses the egg that best meets their secret criteria. You then tap the tips of the eggs against each other until the last unbroken egg is declared the winner. All of the broken eggs must be eaten by the losing competitors.
As I've already mentioned, Monday is a holiday here. I didn't grow up Catholic, but I assumed that Monday had some sort of religious significance. I was surprised to learn that in Poland, there isn't any cultural obligation to go to church, but rather the day is dubbed "Wet Monday," or the humorous sounding Polish name, "Śmigus Dyngus." Once again, according to Culture.pl, "tradition requires that boys throw water over girls and spank them with willow branches." As a kid I'm sure I would have felt some degree of relief not having brothers, but apparently many people treat the following Tuesday as revenge day where the girls get to soak the boys.
Culture Trip advises to wake up early that day if you don't want to be awoken by a bucket of water, and to avoid carrying electronics and important around on Monday since the torment truly can affect anybody (not just boys soaking girls). They also advise leaving important documents at home, wear clothes you don't mind getting wet in, and stay alert for people who may be hiding in the bushes.
The final festivities extend into Tuesday in Krakow, even though most people are back at work. Those lucky enough to have the day off go to Krakus Mound to take place in the medieval fair, Rekawka. Traditionally (per Krakow Info) bonfires burned among fencing and pole climbing contests in this pagan ritual honoring the dead. These days, it's mostly stalls selling sweets and sword fighting between professional medieval knights. Rekawka fairs are apparently becoming more popular around the country and mostly are being treated as a renaissance festival.
What about the Easter Bunny? A few websites noted that the Easter Bunny visits the homes of Polish children and hides small gifts and sweets for them to find around the house, but that doesn't seem to be the focus of Easter. Like most holidays in Poland, the main focus is on family, and of course, food. Happy Easter everyone!
Trying to blow out the egg innards so we can paint and hang the shells.
Cameron trying to fully coat his egg.
Me taking a more intricate approach.
The finished products, hanging from our dead Christmas tree.
We don't go outside much, but spring is springing!
I'm taking detours on my way to and from the grocery store to try and see some of the city on occasion.
The daffodils are everywhere! Apparently, they are the primary symbol of spring in Poland.