Cultural: Easter traditions in Poland

Easter in Poland is rich in tradition. They vary from fasting (from meat and sweets) in the days just prior to Easter Sunday to carrying napkin lined baskets with food to the church to be blessed. Many of the traditions seem to revolve around food.

When we were first here in Poland, on the Saturday before Easter, I saw our neighbors put a basket into the trunk of their car and then drive off. I saw others on the street carrying baskets. I thought, "Wow, it must be tradition to have a picnic today!"

Now that I know what's happening, that was humorous thinking. But it is what I thought at the time. I still remember looking out our window in our first house and wondering what was going on.

Later I found out that they take the food that they are planning on eating on Easter Sunday morning and put it into the basket - included are bread, sausage, eggs, salt, etc. and then they take it to their local Roman Catholic Church on Saturday in order to have the priest bless it.

Besides the things shown should be included is a ram with a ribbon around its neck - either in the form of bread or made of sugar.

I was in the store the other day when I saw this one

A partial picture of a display of Easter goodies.

A partial picture of a display of Easter goodies.

The eggs that go into the basket are often painted or colored or both. Since most of our eggs that we get in the stores here are brown, the colors tend to be dark.  You can also buy some packets of covers or dye, just like in the states. Sometimes people use natural dyes, such as onion skins, etc.  


They are supposed to fast from meat and sweets on these days before Easter, and then on Easter Sunday morning, they are free to eat red meat such as pork and beef. Before that, they are allowed fish (which I consider the flesh of an animal - i.e. meat, BTW), I think.  If I'm wrong, someone can correct me on whether they can eat fish before Easter. It could be even that is restricted.

The Catholics here are often more committed to this kind of dietary restrictions more than I ever heard of in the states. Of course, I didn't know many Catholics in the USA. I'm sure that some eat and just don't talk about it--feeling guilty the whole time.  My source did tell me that people under 14 and over 60 are exempt from fasting restrictions. 

(Yesterday I stopped in our local kebab place just to encourage the owners and to buy kebabs from them for our dinner since I figured they wouldn't have much business. Imagine my surprise when I saw a table with 4 young people sitting down, enjoying themselves!  I put in my order, and then I actually started hearing them - and they were speaking ENGLISH!  So, I talked with them. They were a group of 3 Aussies and 1 American visiting Poland. They were eating kebab and other things. When I asked the owner if business was particularly slow, he said yes, it was terrible - almost no business at all so far -- I was there about 12:30 pm - just after noon.)

I was in the post office also the other day to mail something to the states, and saw this display. I was in a hurry, so it wasn't the best picture - but they had this rack of Easter cards for sale. It made me chuckle, kind of. I tried to imagine such a display in the USPS. I couldn't.

Breakfast on Easter Sunday morning is a family affair. They eat about 10 or 11 am, and make it a big meal, but not too big, for they eat a large dinner of goose, duck, ham, chicken, etc. later in the day.  Once again, family is all gathered together.  

They do use these religious holidays to get together as a family. Sometimes that is easily done as they all live nearby, but other times, they have to travel quite a ways to get "home" to mom and dad. Unfortunately because of the increased road traffic, we also tend to see many more traffic accidents surrounding these holidays. 

As to church - a faithful Catholic will attend daily mass from Wednesday on until Sunday. On Sunday, there is a special Easter service at 6 am for those who can make it. This service has a lot of singing and is very happy. This is what my son's orthodontist told me, anyway. On Friday night there is a special parade where thousands of people walk the "stations of cross" in downtown Warsaw. This will take about 2 1/2 hours.

All stores will be closed on Easter Sunday and also the day after Easter Sunday. Most stores actually close on Sat. about 2 or 4 pm so everyone can go home and get ready for the holiday.

- end of cultural post  - the rest is personal 

While I can't go into too much detail about a traditional Polish Easter because I'm not Polish Roman Catholic nor am I married to one, I will say that our own family traditions are rather sparse in comparison. When people ask me about our traditions relating to Easter, I feel (almost) defensive. :) In truth, on a personal level, I feel relief that I don't need to follow all those rules relating to tradition.  

I say that because here in Poland

tradition = something you are supposed to do/must do

and not

tradition = something nice to do.

In our own family, when our children were little, we colored eggs - even though I know it is more of a spring time tradition and not truly Christian -  and a couple times we had an Easter egg hunt.  And that's about it. For us, the special day was about Christ's resurrection. We did that primarily without a lot of extra traditions.  We have a favorite cd we play especially on that day, but not only. In our churches in the states, there tends to be a lot of special music focusing on the resurrection of Christ - and for us, that was about all.  There weren't a lot of extra "do's" and "don'ts" for that day nor the days leading up to it.


No matter if you've got a freshly cleaned house or not, a newly washed car or not, a huge breakfast or a tiny one, new clothes or not, well or sick, are alone or with family or friends, I hope you have a wonderful Resurrection Sunday tomorrow!



Becky Petersen2 Comments