Valentine’s Day has come once again! Every year, countless couples across the world celebrate the day with their loved ones. Some people disapprove of the overwhelming cuteness and pinkness that fills the shops in February, some are happy to have a special occasion to spend a romantic evening with someone. What’s it like in Poland?
First of all, Valentine’s Day wasn’t celebrated in Poland until the nineties, when western influences appeared more strongly in our culture. Before that, 14th February was mostly associated with those suffering from epilepsy (Saint Valentine is also their patron) and the liturgical memorial of the saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Now, with the rising popularity of the new celebrations, there seems to be less and less interest in these old traditions. There’s not many people who would rather spend the day at the church, listening to themed preaches, or on a pilgrimage to Saint Valentine’s tomb in Terni, Italy.
Today, people are far more likely to indulge in romantic dates, shower each other with roses, chocolate or various heart-shaped gifts, and exchange confessions of love (usually written in poems on a Valentine’s card). The letter is the most popular practice – even in grade school kids sneak cards and usually a piece of chocolate into their crush’s belongings, be it by mail, or by their peers’ aid. It is also the day when the flower mail notes the most business.
It wasn’t always like that, though, and don’t think that before 1990 Poland had no way of celebrating love! Even now, following old, Slavic traditions (that are still a part of the culture, even if few people actually follow the old beliefs) are being turned into both mass and casual events to commemorate love. However, those old celebrations devoted to couples, romantic feelings and finding your partner are held at night – the night of summer solstice (usually between 21st and 22nd June), called the Kupała Night. Back in the day, it was the festival of fire and water, sun and moon, happiness, fertility and love.
Although a lot of lore on the subject is lost, the celebrations include fortune telling (when and who will you marry, is your current partner true in their feelings, how many children will you have... answers to all these questions were found during Kupała!), jumping over herb bonfires (either with your chosen partner, to strengthen your love, or alone, for health and to find someone to love, or to purify your spirit and strengthen your faith) and floating wreaths. The most known, and still popular tradition is the last one. Maidens would make wreaths of flowers and herbs, place a candle or a small torch within them, and let them go to float down a local river or stream; if the wreath burned or drowned, the lady was likely to never marry, if it simply went along the river and was lost, she would marry, but in further future; the most fortunate had their wreaths picked out of the river by young men, who were usually waiting just behind the riverbend, and tried to pick out the wreath of the girl they liked, thus proving that fate helps those who help themselves.
Associated with the wreath custom was the search for the fern flower. It was believed that during the Kupała Night, ferns would blossom, and the person who found their flower would be blessed with luck, prosperity, power and love. Many young people entered the woods during the night to search for it, which was just another convenient way to meet your future spouse.
Surprisingly, wreath floating is not just an old tradition, reduced to a tale in modern times. To the contrary, Wianki (meaning exactly “Wreaths”) is a popular event held in many cities, most notably Krakow and Warsaw. Thousands of people make one gigantic wreath, and float it down the Vistula river, to provide love for each and every person in Poland. The enormous, colorful wreath is a sight worth seeing! Who knows, maybe it will bring you luck in love too?
Fancy to go to Polish country-side and experience traditional customs? We are eager to organize such trip for you. Just state your wishes and we will do the rest.