The time period prior to Easter is called Lent. It lasts six weeks or 40 days (not including Sundays). Especially for the passionate Catholics this is a time for preparation for Easter and heading for church more often. It’s also a good excuse for giving up some bad habits for 40 days and trying to be a better person. You can for instance stop eating sweets, drinking alcohol or stop swearing.
Tradition of fasting recalls of Jesus’s temptation by the devil on the desert for 40 days.
The Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and the day before it begins there is a Shrove Tuesday. This is the last day of the carnival. So fat eating and drinking before fasting time is allowed even though it’s in the middle of regular week.
I also enjoy Easter holiday for the arrival of spring it usually announces in Poland. Either in March or April we welcome Easter with the spring novelties in our Easter menu and new home decorations in bright colors. At the end we grow plants and flowers on the balconies and in the flower boxes. If you are really lucky (or have been fasting enough during the lent time, ha, ha) then you might even enjoy the afternoon coffee on your outdoor terrace or in the garden on Easter Sunday.
However the weather in the north part of Poland on the coast in Tri-City (Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot) can be tricky. If you live in the southern-west of Poland in the Lower Silesia (with Wrocław as the biggest city) , in the west in the Greater Poland (with Poznań as the biggest city) or in the south in the Lesser Poland (with Kraków as the biggest city) then the weather is usually milder and much warmer. Nevertheless Easter means the spring is back wherever you live in Poland!
The first sign of approaching Easter in Poland is a large number of branches and dried flowers being brought to church. One week before Easter, we have a Palm Sunday (in Polish niedziela palmowa). According to Catholic tradition, the day marks the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem. Poles often bring pussy willows or ‘palms’ made of colourful woven dried branches.
During the Holy Week preceding Easter the Christians remember the last week of Jesus’s life. They usually attend in church services starting already on Holy Thursday.
Holy Thursday called also Maundy Thursday commemorates the Washing of the Feet (Maundy) and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. A mass for Holy Thursday is usually celebrated on the evening. Moreover Maundy Thursday initiates the Easter Triduum, the period which commemorates the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Then on Good Friday Catholics commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary. In most European Western countries it’s a legal holiday. However in Poland it’s a regular working day. Still many Poles take a holiday on this day. They do last shopping, finalize spring cleaning, prepare Easter food and many go to church in the evening. Last but not least they fast on Good Friday.
The following day Holy Saturday is the day when Christ was physically placed in the tomb.
On this day people in Poland “count down” for Easter. Among different activities we prepare Easter baskets. We line it with a white linen or lace napkin and decorate with sprigs of boxwood. The baskets contain a sampling of Easter foods: eggs, a piece of sausage or ham, salt and pepper, bread, butter, a piece of cake and an Easter Lamb made of sugar or even plastic. They are brought to church to be blessed.
On the most important day, Easter Sunday, some go to church at 6 am for the Resurrection mass – a ceremonial service and procession. Families gather to eat common breakfast. Before the meal, in much the same way as for Christmas with the sharing of the opłatek (Christmas wafer), people share wedges of the blessed Easter eggs from the basket. They exchange wishes and a Wesołego Alleluja (Joyful Hallelujah).
The last festive day is Easter Monday, known as Śmigus-Dyngus (Wet Monday), on which tradition requires that boys throw water over girls and spank them with willow branches.
In Poland, eggs are an important part of the Easter tradition. Children decorate them with paints, crayons, stickers, tissue-paper and anything they can find and seems suitable. The decorated eggs are put on the Easter table as a decoration and very often are also used for entertainment. The simple game includes two participants that pick one egg each and hit them against each other. The person whose egg didn’t crack wins.
In contrast to Christmas Easter in Poland isn’t really about gifts, however, adults give small presents to children. Children believe that a giant Easter Bunny goes from house to house and hides sweets somewhere in the room the night before Holy Sunday.
Last but not least this chapter is dedicated to my favorite Easter traditions which is food. If you managed to read the article to this moment it looks like you are also into food.
In general Poles are used to prepare food at home. It also includes cooking for holiday such as Easter. It’s an essential part of preparation not less important than e.g. house cleaning.
One may be surprised but our traditional Easter dish for breakfast is a sour soup called in Polish Żurek. The soup is made with sour rye flour. The sour rye is a naturally fermented liquid mixture of water, spices and rye flour. The soup is based on meat or vegetable broth. It’s served with spicy white sausages, hard boiled egg halves and spiced with garlic. Delicious but not light.
Furthermore the Easter breakfast is dominated by cold dishes and is a feast for meat lovers: ham, white sausage, roast meats, and pâté (pasztet) served with horseradish as a side dish. Eggs are served in many different combinations. The must have is classic hard boiled egg halves with mayonnaise topping. Then a variety of eggs stuffed with different filling such as: mushrooms, tuna or salmon are also popular.
After a harsh winter we all long after fresh vegetables. Obviously nowadays we can enjoy vegetables all year round. But before Easter you can definitely find more signs of coming spring on your local markets. So of course these spring greens land on our Easter table too.
After a savory breakfast along with a cup of coffee we serve a choice of traditional Easter cakes. A tall, round 15-yolk sweet yeast cake with a hole in the middle is called babka (Bundt cake) or a mazurek – flat cake with a shortbread-like crust and which we may top with a layer or combination of layers consisting of fruit jam, dried fruit, a thick caramel, chocolate, or nuts. We decorate the surface of mazurek with icing, dried or fresh fruit, nuts, raisins, chocolate, or toffee.
Last but not least a cheesecake – sernik is a must have Easter pastry on the Polish table.
Easter holiday is all about celebrating with your family and closest friends. It (mainly) involves sitting round the table and enjoying the delicious food a housewife, mother or grandmother has made. Yes, of course you take a walk or play with the kids in the garden when the weather lets you do so. Nevertheless it’s not enough to burn all the calories you have eaten.
The traditional holiday in Poland such as Easter most families spend at home. It becomes more popular for the Poles to leave for Easter holiday to the mountain or lake resort. It’s a way to escape from the preparations and all the hustle and bustle Easter involves. However until now this phenomenon has been far from being as popular as it’s in the western European countries.
We are more traditional. Being more involved with our parents and grandparents we perceive Easter as a family time and opportunity to spend this time together.
This year’s Easter will be exceptional. Due to pandemic we will have to spend this time isolated and closed at home. Not even with the closest family since our elder parents and grandparents will be safe when not exposed to company of other family members.
It’s said that staying at home is the best gift you can give to yourself and your beloved. So let’s #stayathome and overcome this crisis safely and in good health.
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