There is no doubt that Poland is a catholic country. Statistics are imprecise and some sources show different values, but we can assume that approximately 90% of Polish citizens are catholic believers.
Catholics in Poland
The numbers may fluctuate since everyone who was baptized is officially considered catholic but they may have changed their faith or apostatized in their adult life. Nevertheless catholic beliefs dominate both in Poles’ everyday life and in calendar of celebrations. Important church holidays usually indicate days off and the whole country covers itself with specific ornaments to emphasizes the holiday atmosphere. There are two major catholic holidays: Christmas and Easter. Although people perceive them differently, Easter has more significance position in the Catholic Church and is regarded as the most important church holiday.
Easter is held to commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and is preceded by the preparation period, that is Lent. Celebrations begin on the first day of Shrovetide which initiate a long period of moderation ending with Lent. Each day of Holy Week is connected with different church event. The most important is Holy Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent. Also known as Ash Wednesday for believers scatter ashes on their heads in church in order to manifest their atonement. Holy Week ends with Holy Saturday when believers go to church with “Święconka” (the blessing of the Easter baskets) and spend next two days celebrating Ascension of Jesus Christ.
According to calendar, Easter begins on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon (the first spring full moon), for that it is a movable holiday and depends on days of the week instead of particular date. Some of traditions related to this holiday have no catholic origins and they were borrowed from other cultures and transferred to the Catholic Church in Poland.
Święconka is the most important tradition of Easter in Poland. Specific dishes prepared in every catholic household are put in the basket and carried to church. Particular dishes have individual symbolic meaning: an egg symbolizes life, fertility and strength; a sausage stands for prosperity; salt protects from deterioration; a horseradish symbolizes the Passion; bread and Easter lamb stand for Jesus Christ. Once Easter dishes were put in the basket, blessed in church and then eaten during the Easter breakfast. Nowadays those baskets a rather symbolic and blessed food is only shared between family members before breakfast.
Another cultivated tradition is the Easter Palm. This custom has sustained mainly in countryside and in some regions in Poland people organize special palm contests, where participants prepare and then demonstrates giant colourful palms. Palm leafs are attributed to Holy Family of Nazareth, while in Polish tradition there are usually flower, herb and grass plaitings. The Palm has magical properties and touching it were supposed to ensure beauty, strength, courage and protect from poverty. After it was blessed on the Palm Sunday, people used to keep it at home for the next year as the protection against evil powers.
The oldest and the most important Easter tradition is painting eggs. An egg symbolizes a new life for that in Christian tradition it stands for fertility and it was borrowed beliefs of ancient Slavs. Apart from regions where eggs are painted using traditional methods of colouring with onion, beetroots and paraffin used for making designs, there are a lot of modern techniques of colouring eggs with peculiar ornaments, pieces of cloths, trimmings, feathers and many other small elements. Such eggs are used for decorations and usually are not edible. The oldest painted eggs are even 5 thousand years old.
Another Easter tradition is Dyngus Day when people pour water on each other. Water has always been a symbol of purity and life. That’s why girls living on countryside used to believe that getting completely wet meant great success. In fact girls can offer a small gift, usually some candy or painted egg, to buy themselves out of getting poured. Nonetheless, being poured with water means being popular with the boys, since countryside girls do not want to avoid this tradition. Most Easter customs are cultivated in vestigial, symbolic form. A bucket with water has been replaced with perfume vials, and a lavish breakfast – with split eggs. Yet tradition is still respected and babka cakes, mazurek cakes and painted eggs in Polish tradition will not be soon forgotten.