Archive for 'traditions'

How does Polish funeral look like?

Posted on 02. May, 2014 by in Countries, traditions

Funerals in Poland, i.e. the actual ceremonies, go a long way back. In addition to mourning the dead, it has always been a time of evaluating the life of those left behind and, in line with the Catholic faith, always with a view to improve their attitude toward others. Funerals gave the priests celebrating the passage from the worldly to the (hopefully) heavenly an opportunity to rebuke the living for their sins while calling on them to lead a better life. For the believers this seems to work rather well, as everyone fears death, one way or another.

As most people in Poland are Catholic, they usually have a Christian funeral ceremony, which may or may not be similar to whatever is practiced by other Christian nations. With the death of a close one the family usually publishes an obituary (nekrolog) (in Poland this is essentially a death announcement published in one or more newspapers indicating the person who died and identifying the date and place of the funeral) and lets distant relatives know of the sad event. Similar death announcements (klepsydry) are also posted at the church at which the ceremony is to be held, and possibly also in other places, such as the home of the deceased to let their neighbors know. Funeral homes (dom pogrzebowy) are contacted to perform all of the required legal steps and provide the coffin or other funeral-related artifacts.

Once all of this is done and the day comes, people usually gather before the mass for a wake (czuwanie) by the casket (trumna) (traditionally this can last as long as an entire night) in the chapel, which is then followed by the service. In addition to the usual celebration, instead of the sermon the priest provides a brief account of the deceased’s life, concentrating on the positive aspects. Depending on the arrangements with the church, other family members may also give their own eulogies, although this is highly uncommon. Following the mass the casket is carried by the funeral home workers to the hearse (karawan) which, along with all the flowers and wreaths (kwiaty i wieńce), takes the deceased on their last journey (ostatnia podróż).

When all the mourners (żałobnicy) have arrived at the cemetery (cmentarz), the priest will commence the graveside committal service, or the final farewell (ostatnie pożegnanie). While throwing a handful of soil onto the casket lowered into the grave (grób), they will repeat the well-known phrase: “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return” (Z prochu powstałeś i w proch się obrócisz), known in the Anglican tradition as “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. This is also the time when family members can say the last goodbye. After this the gravediggers (grabarze) will start their work and the overall atmosphere will become very somber and sad. It is customary for mourners to approach the closest relatives of the deceased person and offer condolences, saying for example: Moje najszczersze wyrazy współczucia (My deepest sympathy) or Proszę przyjąć moje kondolencje (Please accept my condolences). Once this has been said, it is probably best to leave the family mourners for a while to allow them a moment of solitude with their feeling of loss and sorrow.

Following the burial service (pochówek) it is also customary in Poland to offer a funeral luncheon (stypa or konsolacja) involving a meal and a gathering with the family to remember the life of the deceased. Such gathering may be held at the decedent’s house or at a designated reception hall or restaurant. If you have been invited, spend some time with the family comforting them over a meal, and leave paying your final respects.

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)

Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych!

Posted on 19. Apr, 2014 by in Calendar, Holidays, traditions

Easter (Wielkanoc) is traditionally is the most important Christian holiday, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Polish Easter’s original folk and religious character and it not changed much during the centuries, but due to the rich variety of many regional traditions in Poland, some published information might be little different.

Easter observances in Poland actually begin on Ash Wednesday, when pussywillows called in polish “bazie” or “kotki” are cut and placed in the water. These pussywillow twigs are used later on Palm Sunday (“Palmowa Niedziela”) as “palms” to be blessed in the church. Holy Week (Wielki Tydzień) begins on Palm Sunday, which is a commemoration of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

  • Ash Wednesday / Środa PopielcowaThe Polish Easter celebrations, beginning with Ash Wednesday. Most of the Poles try to go to the church for the mass, where priests mark their heads with a cross of ashes while saying: “Remember, man thou art dust and to dust thou shall return”. (Z prochu powstałeś i w proch sie obrócisz)
  • Lent / Wielki PostFor Polish Catholics, Lent is the most reflective spiritual season. During this time people are fasting, going to the confession, praying and visiting the specially decorated churches to see “Our Lord’s Grave”. Each parish strives to come up with the most artistically and religiously evocate arrangement in which the Blessed Sacrament, draped in a filmy veil, is prominently displayed. During the Lent most of the people do not eat meat on Fridays.
  • Palm Sunday / Niedziela PalmowaOn this day people bring the pusssywillow branches or other custom made wild flowers bouquets instead of palms to the church for the blessing. Some older folks say that swallowing one of the buds from the pussywillows branch will ensure health all year. Parishioners processed with the palms through the streets around the parish, celebrating the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
    Image by Magic Madzik on

    Image by Magic Madzik on


  • Holly Saturday, Food Blesing/ŚwięconkaOn Saturday people take to churches decorated baskets (Swieconka) containing a sampling of traditional food to be blessed. Swieconka is very popular Polish tradition (see below). Also this day typically Polish ceremonies are performed in the church yard. It is the blessing of the fire, the reverence which goes back to pagan times.Food Blessing / Święconka

    Święconka is one of the most enduring and beloved Polish traditions. On Saturday people take to churches decorated baskets containing a sampling of traditional food to be blessed: hard-boiled eggs, ham, sausage, salt, pepper, horseradish, fruits, bread and cake. Prominently displayed among these is the Easter lamb, usually molded from butter and colorful pisanki.

    Common foods brought for blessing include: eggs, bread, butter, salt,pepper, horseradish, ham, and sausage.

    The food blessed in the church remains untouched until Sunday morning.

    Eggs / Pisanki, Kraszanki, Malowanki, Drapanki, Wyklejanki, Nalepianki

    The custom of coloring eggs for Easter is still observed in Polish custom. The eggs are decorated with many traditional Polish symbols of Easter. Most popular are lamb, cross, floral designs or Easter’s greetings such as Wesołego Alleluja. The eggs decorated with the use of treated wax are called “pisanki”. Another technique involved gluing colored paper or shiny fabric on them. The eggs which are painted in one color are called “malowanki” or “kraszanki”. If patterns are etched with a pointed instrument on top of the paint, the eggs are then called “skrobanki” or “rysowanki”.

  • Easter Sunday / Wielka NiedzielaOn Easter morning, a special Resurrection Mass is celebrated in every church in Poland. At this Mass, a procession of priests, altar boys and the people circles the church three times while the church bells peal and the organ is played for the first time since they had been silenced on Good Friday. Following the Mass, people return home to eat the food blessed the day before.The Easter table will be covered with a white tablecloth. On the middle of the table in most homes housewife will put colored eggs, cold meats, coils of sausages, ham, yeast cakes, pound cakes, poppy-seed cakes, and a lamb made of sugar. Polish Easter Soup called Żurek or White Barszcz is often served at the Easter meal, garnished with the hard-boiled eggs and sausage. There is also tradition to share blassed eggs with the members of the family and wish each other good health, happiness for the rest of the year.
  • Wet Monday / Lany PoniedzialekMonday (just after aster) is a holiday in Poland and is called in polish “Lany Poniedzialek” or “Śmingus- Dyngus”. This is a wonderful day of fun. The ancient Polish tradition on Easter Monday, is celebrated by everyone with enthusiasm by sprinkling each other with water. Especially kids have fun this day. Some people say that by being splashed with water on Easter Monday will bring you good luck throughout the year.

Happy Easter! Have a wonderful Day! Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych!

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)

Polish Religious Easter traditions

Posted on 16. Apr, 2014 by in Holidays, traditions

One of the most significant Catholic traditions in Poland is Wielkanoc or Święta Wielkanocne (Easter) that commemorates Zmartwychwstanie Jezusa Chrystusa (Jesus Christ Resurrection).

First, on the last Thursday before Wielki Post (Lent) there is the so-called Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday) when all the people eat pączki wypełnione marmoladą (donuts filled with marmalade) or faworki or chrust (sweet crispy biscuits in the shape of thin folded ribbons, deep-fried and with powdered sugar). Then, we have forty days of Wielki Post (Lent) which starts with Środa Popielcowa or Popielec (Ash Wednesday). It finishes the period of karnawał (carnival). During this time every Friday there is Droga Krzyżowa (Stations of the Cross) in churches – a service which depicts Jesus road to be ukrzyżowany (crucified) and every Sunday – Gorzkie Żale (Opening Lamentations) – it is a collection of songs about Męka Chrystusa (Christ’s Passion).

On the fifth Sunday of the Lent there is Niedziela Palmowa when we bring gałązki palmowe or palmy (palms) to church to be poświęcone (blessed). There is a special konkurs (competiotion) known in the whole Poland which takes place in the village called Lipnica Murowana – its main idea is to make the highest and the most beautiful palm.

Then, there are Wielki Czwartek (Holy Thursday), Wielki Piątek (Good Friday) and Wielka Sobota (Holy Saturday) when there are special services in churches. On Wielka Sobota (Holy Saturday) we put different kinds of food into koszyki (baskets): jajka (eggs), sól (salt), chleb (bread), kiełbasa (sausage), chrzan (horseradish) and we take them to church where they are poświęcone (blessed) and eaten for uroczyste śniadanie wielkanocne (solemn Easter breakfast) on Niedziela Wielkanocna, Wielka Niedziela or Niedziela Zmartwychwstania Pańskiego (Easter Sunday).

The most important day of Easter is mentioned above Niedziela Wielkanocna, Wielka Niedziela or Niedziela Zmartwychwstania Pańskiego (Easter Sunday) with solemn masses. It is the day to be spent with families and relatives, to relax and rest. For children, there is the custom that zajączek wielkanocny (Easter bunny) brings presents. Sometimes, parents hide the gifts in different parts of the house, room or garden and children must look for them.

Poniedziałek Wielkanocny (Easter Monday) has a tradition called Śmingus-Dyngus (Dyngus Day) that is why it is also known as Lany Poniedziałek (Wet Monday)– people make others wet by pouring water or perfumes. It is especially popular with children and teenagers.

Image by Jarosław Pocztarski on

Image by Jarosław Pocztarski on

Similarly to Boże Narodzenie (Christmas), there are also various decorations bought, made and prepared for Easter. These are: baranki and zajączki cukrowe (sugar Easter lambs and bunnies), kury (chickens) and pisanki (colourful Easter eggs) – ręcznie malowane (hand painted), farbowane (dyed) or the so-called wydmuszki (blown eggs).

As you see, Polish festivals are rich in numerous traditions – both religious and these more earthly ones. This is very pleasant and weeks earlier all the people just feel the special atmosphere of oncoming unusual time. Polish people prepare for these Holy Days carefully cleaning and tidying the flats and houses, going shopping to buy presents for their relatives and thinking also about the spiritual side of the festivals.

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)