Winters in Poland were long and unforgiving. Therefore people are longing for spring, for possibility to grow plants and other vegetation. One of the ancient and pagan habits that supposedly was helping to get rid of winter was Topienie Marzanny "sinking of Marzanna". This habit is still cultivated among scouts or school kids. Kids made a doll from old grass and tree branches and take it to the river. They burn the doll (called "Marzanna", from the word "marznac" means "freeze") and throw her into the river. The symbolic meaning of this ceremony is to get rid of winter therefore it is performed in early spring.
Early spring (called in Polish "przednówek", meaning "the last weeks before the new harvest") was the most difficult time of a year for survival. The food supplies prepared in autumn were finishing, people and animals were worn out after winter. The establishing of religious Lent (read the previous article in these series about Polish Lent Tradition) in this time of a year was helping to survive this hard time and justify its moral sense and significance.
The Easter marks already the beginning of spring season. The Easter eggs are symbols of fertility and beginning of the new life. Some of the eggs were painted in traditional Polish folk patterns. These eggs were called "pisanki" (look the picture below). Word "pisanki" comes from the root-word meaning "to write". Painting eggs is a multi-layered process of writing on an egg with hot beeswax, dying the egg, then finally melting and rubbing off the egg for a finished product.
But the eggs are used during Easter not only because of their symbolic sense but also because of practical reasons. Simply, the chicken lay more eggs in spring season, it is a symbol of good harvest and fertility.
In Holy Saturday Poles take their baskets of food to the church to be blessed: eggs (painted, of course), sausage, ham, bread and anything else, including salt and pepper. The basket is nicely decorated with doily, green parsley and flowers. The baskets are put at the altar and priest bless the food. This should ensure a good harvest and sufficient amount of food for coming year.
The famous Polish epic poem "Chlopi" (Peasants) written by Wladyslaw Reymont that awarded him a Nobel Prize in 1924 is divided into 4 volumes based on seasons of the year and describes how tightly the life of the farmers was connected to the nature and the specific season.
You can read more about Easter and Pagan traditions in Poland in other articles on our site.
Here is also a link to Polish customs' book written by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, Mary Anne Knab (Illustrator). It is entitled Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore
If you are interested in Polish cuisine I recommend a book The Best of Polish Cooking by Karen West