Calendar of Feasts – Harvest Festival (Święto Plonów – Dożynki) Posted by Kasia on Jul 26, 2010 in Culture, Geography, History, Polish Language
Today I wanted to write about a very important and interesting holiday, celebrated usually in Polish villages.
From time immemorial, the reaping of harvest (zebranie plonów) crowned the toils of year- long farming and the finishing of work in the fields was a significant rural holiday.
Its names included a “wreath holiday” (wieńcowem), from the major symbol of harvest – a wreath of crops and flowers, a “detouring holiday” (okrężnem), from the age-old custom (obyczaj, zwyczaj) of detouring one’s fields after having collected all crops, and the most common Polish name – dożynki.
In Poland the tradition dates back to the 16th century or even earlier. The celebration was organized by great landowners and rich farmers (bogaci rolnicy) who hired hand laborers for harvest, for the sake of reapers when they finished their job.
The harvest ceremony began with the weaving of a harvest wreath (wieniec) from last ears of corn left to remain in the field for some time to make the current year’s good crops be repeated in the following year. Those last sheaves of cereal plants were called a beard (broda), hub (pępek), goat (koza) or partridge (przepiórka).
A harvest wreath, usually in the shape of a big crown (korona) or wheel (koło), decorated with apples, walnuts, red rowan fruit, flowers and ribbons, symbolized the entire toll taken from the earth. It was itself called plon, i.e. har-vest.
The wreath was carried by the best woman harvester, worn as a headpiece or held in her hands (sometimes with the help of a few farmhands or reapers. She was followed by a procession of reapers in Sunday clothes, who carried their tools: scythes (kosy), sickles (sierpy) and rakes (grabie) perfectly cleaned and decorated with flowers.
When the wreath was blessed in church, the procession went singing to the manor house or a farmer’s house. The reapers proceeding behind the wreath sang songs telling about their toil at the harvest. They also asked for good crops in the following year. The whole country sang:
Plon niesiemy, plon, w gospodarza dom
Aby dobrze plonowalo
Po sto korcy z ziarna dało,
Plon nisiemy plon.
Carry harvest’s yield, to squire from the field.
May the harvest give its bounty
Biggest crop yields in the county,
Carry harvest’s yield.
The host of the harvest, most often a landlord of a wealthy peasant, seized the wreath from the best harvester’s hands and carried it himself inside the house, where he put it on a table and asked the woman to dance the first dance with him. Then he led everyone to wards tables set in the court yard and invited them to a fest and dancing, which often lasted till late at night.
The harvest wreath was stored in the vestibule or in the barn (stodoła) till next year’s sowing and the grains that fell out of it were added to new grain for sowing to maintain the continuity of good crops.
The centuries old Harvest Festival is still celebrated nowadays, although its form has now changed a little. The former merrymaking arranged for servants and farm workers has been transformed into a holiday of all peasants and farmers accompanied by picnics and fairs, farming exhibitions and performances of artistic ensembles.
As in the past, contemporary Harvest Festival is celebrated with a colorful parade (barwny pochód) of people in regional costumes (regionalne kostiumy) carrying a wreath and a loaf of baked bread from the current year’s crops. Parade goes through the whole village, from one roadside shrine (decorated by people who live close by) to another.
In recent years, a tradition of parish harvest festival developed, as well as pilgrimages from various parishes to the renowned places of religious cult, including the greatest Sanctuary of Our Lady in Częstochowa.
Sometimes the Harvest Festival was held after the first crop of wheat on August 15th, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Day, but normally the two feasts were celebrated separately.
In our times, on the Assumption Day, in Poland also called Our Lady of Herb’s Day (Matki Boskiej Zielnej), bouquets or bunches of flowers (bukiety kwiatów), herbs (zioła) and fruit (owoce), so plentiful in August, are continued to be taken to church for a blessing and as a thanksgiving offer to Our Lady. Formerly those bouquets were kept at home for the whole year and in case of need the herbs they contained were used to naturally cure some illnesses.
After a long brake of some fifty or so years, August 15th became the official National Day of Polish Army and Weapons. It is celebrated in order to commemorate the victory of Poles over the Soviet Army under General Budionny in the Battle of Warsaw in 1920, when the Bolsheviks attacked Poland. It is called “the miracle on the Vistula” (cud nad Wisłą).
Do następnego razu! (Till next time…)