From Slavic rituals celebrating the coming of spring, to wafer sharing at Christmas and fortune telling with hot wax on St. Andrew’s Day, we round up the most unusual Polish customs and traditions.
Don’t be surprised if you’re in Poland on Easter Monday and randomly get doused with water on the street. Śmigus-dyngus (also called Wet Monday) dates back to the Middle Ages and initially involved only girls being sprayed with water by boys (a kind of a courtship ritual). Today everyone can take part and use sophisticated tools such as water guns and garden hoses.
Originating from a pagan ritual, Poles burn and drown a life size straw doll of Slavic goddess Marzanna in a river to mark the end of winter and celebrate the coming of spring. The act is performed on the first day of spring (between March 19 and 21).
Another typical Polish custom is poprawiny, a follow up party organised the day after a wedding party (which usually involves lots of drinking and lasts until the early hours of the morning), making the whole event last two days. Today, not all newly weds throw poprawiny, but you will definitely get to experience it at countryside weddings.
One of the typical Christmas traditions in Poland is putting bits of hay underneath the tablecloth at the Christmas Eve dinner. This is done to celebrate the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem stable. In some parts of Poland, people used to cover the whole floor of their house with hay.
Another very popular Polish Christmas tradition is sharing thin pieces of wafer (‘opłatek’) with family members and friends, and wishing each other all the best in the New Year before sitting down to the Christmas Eve dinner. The flavourless wafer is made from flour and water and is a symbol of forgiveness, friendship and unity.
All Saints’ Day is especially spectacular in Poland. It’s an annual bank holiday on November 1st, when millions of Poles gather at local cemeteries to commemorate their loved ones by laying flowers and candles on their graves. The most beautiful cemeteries to visit in Poland during the holiday include Warsaw’s Powązki and Krakow’s Rakowicki and Salwator.
Poles also have a unique way of celebrating St. Andrew’s Day (November 30). Festivities include a host of fortune telling games and rituals such as pouring candle wax through a key hole into cold water to create a wax figurine (whose shape is then used to make predictions about the future) or taking part in shoe race across the room, which involves people placing their shoe one at a time in front of each other in a row. The first shoe that reaches the wall or the door, means its owner will get married soon.