As a deeply Catholic country, Poland takes its Easter (Wielkanoc) celebrations very seriously. In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic effectively turning everything on its head, Poles will still try their best to adapt to somehow celebrate the occasion. Obviously, all cafes, restaurants and bars are shut to combat the spread of the Coronavirus, but normally this time of year, you would expect them to be largely empty of locals or completely closed from Good Friday (Wielki Piątek) to Easter Sunday (April 10 - April 12, 2020); shops are typically closed on Easter Sunday and Monday (April 12 - 13, 2020).
Leading up to the season you will see decorative handmade 'palms' for sale all over Poland. Representative of the branches laid on the ground before Jesus during his entrance into Jerusalem, these elaborately woven traditional decorations are made from a variety of dried flowers and plants. On Palm Sunday (Niedziela Palmowa, April 05, 2020 - the official beginning of Poland’s Easter festivities) Catholics take their palms to church on Palm Sunday and have them blessed for the season before they are used to decorate the home.
Abiding Catholics attend Church on Thursday to remember the Last Supper, and again on Good Friday to attend stations of the cross – a series of prayers following Jesus Christ’s route to his crucifixion. On Easter Saturday (April 20, 2019), Polish families bring baskets of food to church to have these blessed as well. These baskets traditionally contain a piece of sausage, bread, egg, some salt, some horseradish and a symbolic ram made from dough. In addition ‘pisanki’ are included - painted boiled eggs which are prepared in the lead-up to Easter by the whole family. Each of these components of the basket has a symbolic meaning: the eggs and meat symbolise new life, fertility and health; the salt protects against bad spirits and helps you follow the right path; the bread symbolises the body of Christ and future prosperity in terms of always having food to feed yourself; the horseradish represents strength and physical health; and the cake represents skills and talents needed for the coming year. Rezurekcja (Resurrection) - a traditional mass with procession where parishioners walk through the streets crying ‘Hallelujah!” is then held either Saturday night or Easter morning depending on parish tradition.
On Easter Sunday (April 12, 2019) - the most important day of the entire Wielki Tydzień (Great Week) - families gather together in the morning to feast from their Easter baskets, plus żurek (Polish rye soup), mazurek (a decoratively iced dessert pie) and other traditional foods. With the dough ram on the table to symbolise Christ’s resurrection, each person places a small piece of the blessed food on their plate before exchanging wishes with other members of the family.
Although bunny-free, things do finally take on a more lighthearted air on Easter Monday (April 13, 2019). Known as ‘Śmigus Dyngus,’ the day is dominated by public water fights and everyone is given carte blanche to drench anyone they see with water. As a foreigner, you are not exempt from this practise, so move fast if you see someone armed with a water pistol or bucket and a grin. Although it’s never pleasant to have a jug of water thrown over your head, this is an improvement over the past when young people were beaten with sticks from Palm Sunday trees; apparently either will bring you luck. Happy Easter!