How to survive Polish Easter when you have absolutely no idea what’s coming next?
Poles are almost as obsessed about Easter as they are about Christmas, and the reasons are numerous. Easter is seen by many as the most important event in the Catholic calendar. It begins on Good Friday, which should be no surprise as the day is widely celebrated around the world. The mood among the devout Catholics is sombre as the day marks the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. You may see many Poles marching towards Churches although, as in most European countries, the decline in numbers of religious participants is clearly visible.
Saturday is a different story all together! The mood changes visibly and the proper Easter celebrations begin. By “proper” we mean “happy” which is what Easter really feels like in Poland. The first huh? moment for those visiting the country will come as they see people, at times hundreds of them gathered outside the many churches, carrying wicker baskets with food in them. Central to the whole tradition is always eggs - they symbolize the beginning, a new life and are thus linked to the idea of the Resurrection. Many Christians in Poland will tell you that painted/dyed eggs are typical of the Polish culture but don’t be fooled! - first dyed eggs date as far back as ancient Mesopotamia. Eggs were also central and symbolic within pagan tribes.
It is, however, true that Poland has pushed the tradition of egg-dying to a whole new level. Everyone has their own way - from boiling eggs in onion skins to obtain a brown, slightly rustic color, to hand-painting, even hand-carving the most complex decorations. Don’t be afraid to take a peek - there’s a proud artist behind every egg and they will be more than happy to show you the results of their work!
What else are you likely to find in the basket? Meat, and probably a lot of it. If you’ve never seen a white sausage, you are about to see one. They are an important element of the Easter menu - you’ll find them on a plate with mustard and horseradish spread and in żurek - a typical Easter soup made from sourdough with potatoes, sausage, and eggs. It’s as delicious and heavy as it looks.
Bread, salt, cakes and anything else that a person finds important to their Easter menu will also find its way into the basket. The food will later get blessed by priests and brought back home. The real temptation lies in not eating all of it on the way home. Many have tried and even more have failed! Whatever makes it home, will be shared at the beginning of the Easter Sunday breakfast.
If you are lucky to be invited to one such breakfast, or have a chance to try it in one of the many restaurants around the city, make sure to taste the Easter classics - żurek soup mentioned above, white sausage with beetroot and horseradish relish, Russian vegetable salad and cakes, especially mazurek, a sponge cake decorated with icing and dried fruit.
Worried that you’ve eaten too much? Don’t worry. If you are brave enough to leave your hotel or hostel on Easter Monday, you will most definitely have some running to do. Have you ever run for your life? Well, now you will. Regardless of the weather, even when it’s as cold as it is this year, there will be groups of pranksters who will chase others with buckets and bottles of water. This weird and slightly tortuous tradition has its roots in pagan times. The water associated with spring rains was to bring a good harvest. Fast-forward a few hundred years and all it brings is flu and cold. Although less and less popular among the health-obsessed Poles, Smigus Dyngus still attracts the hordes of testosterone-buzzing teenagers so expect the unexpected and run for cover!
Text: Jasmina Jasinska