In a strongly Catholic country like Poland, Christmas and Easter celebrations play a very important role. One might argue that for the most religious Poles Easter is actually the most important holiday. But our Easter traditions are cherished by people irrespective of their religious view. No wonder. After all, it is such a colorful and joyful time spent with the family. And there is always so much delicious food on the table!
Easter celebrations in Poland are longer than you might expect. They begin with Palm Sunday, which commemorates the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem, when people laid palm leaves on the ground before Him. The climate in Poland is not really favorable for palm trees, so we have invented our own 'palms', which are either made of willow branches with catkins, or are a kind of a wand decorated with colorful dried flowers and plants. People bring these palms to church to be blessed.
The Holy Week is dedicated to preparing the house for Easter. This involves thorough cleaning (everything must be shiny, from windows to floors), repainting the fence, decorating the house etc. Good Friday is the time of strict fast and visiting the representation of the tomb of Jesus in church.
On Holy Saturday, we prepare beautiful Easter baskets that we then take with us to church in order to have our food blessed. The baskets are decorated with embroidered napkins, boxwood springs and willow branches. We put painted eggs, bread, salt and pepper, ham or sausage, butter and cake in the basket. Sharing the food from the basket between family members will be a kind of an opening ceremony of the next day's celebrations.
Painted eggs (pisanki) are very important in our culture. There are many different techniques. The best known one involves drawing a design with hot wax and then placing the egg in dye. The egg is then colored everywhere except the places that are covered by the wax. It can be dyed several times in different colors, making the design even more interesting. Another technique involves dying the egg in a single color and then scratching a design with a sharp object. You can dye the eggs in a natural way by cooking them with onion skins, purple cabbage, beetroots or spinach. Yet another way of making pisanki is gluing colorful fabric or paper on them. Of course, pisanki can also be simply painted with paints and a brush.
Early in the morning on Sunday, the most religious Poles attend a special Resurrection Mass, After that, they return home to have Easter breakfast. The entire family gathers to celebrate. They begin with sharing the eggs and the resto of the food from the Easter basket.
What is served on Easter? The main role is definitely played by eggs (in different forms) and by white sausage. Different kinds of cold meats are served, as well as the traditional vegetable salad. We also have żurek (sourdough soup), herring, Easter yeast cake, poppyseed cake , cheesecake and mazurek (a kind of Easter cake with layers and beautiful Easter decorations).
On Monday, the celebrations continue. But Monday is special for one more reason.: it is Śmigus-Dyngus, when people traditionally sprinkle water at one another (or in some cases throw serious amounts of it). So if you're in Poland on Wet Monday, be prepared to get soaking wet!