Contra Culture: Poland

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Written by Mark Rafik

Holla at me readers! My name is Mark, and this is my first piece for my “Contra Culture” column, which is all about informing the reader about the diversity in cultures around us at various periods. I aim to enlighten people about the cultural differences that we can face every day and the not-so-common ones too!  I believe having insight about other cultural traditions and behaviors enriches the reader and provides them with an overflowing depth.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fond of the Eastern European and Slavic Cultures. They have always intrigued me in so many ways, and this article goes out to celebrate my long-time astonishment of their unique traditions! Na zdrowie Polska!

Besides suffering from all the weird sounds in the language, Poland has got many traditions that today’s world still views as “different”. We hope you’ll finish this article knowing about the relatively different behaviors that people carry out in Poland today. You can be sure that next time you visit Poland, you won’t wonder about the soaking wet people on the streets during Easter time, nor why do they feel proud on May 3rd.

A legend says that:

Over a millennium ago a king, who ruled the lands near the Vistula River, had three sons to whom he left his wealth when he passed away (Lech, Czech, and Rus). Lech – the new chief – led them to the top of the hills, where they came across a giant Oak tree and a great white eagle soaring above which the setting sun painted unparalleled strokes of magnificent red all over.

He climbed up the tree to have a look around and spotted a large body of water to the north; a borderless, fertile land to the east; grassy hills where cattle could graze to the south; and a thick, deep forest to the west. Lech chose to settle North. Czech and Rus, the younger two, wanted to go West and East, respectively, so the three decided to separate. Lech then moved on to become the first Duke of Poland. The White Eagle remains a symbol to Poland to this day.

The White Eagle remains a symbol of Poland to this day.
The White Eagle remains a symbol of Poland to this day.

This is the legend that many believe was the origin of Poland, Czech Republic, and the Russian territory.

While different versions are told in various parts in Poland, only one or two brothers are mentioned in parts of Czech Republic.

Easter Holiday

One of the oldest and most important Christian feasts in all of Poland. Celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full spring moon, it’s a very colorful feast which brings joy and is accompanied by various religious and folk traditions.

Painting easter eggs is a very common tradition in Poland.
Painting easter eggs is a very common tradition in Poland.

Wet Monday – the day following Easter – is celebrated by splashing water onto relatives and strangers alike! Pranks are a common custom, taking place on this day in Southern Poland with the addition of sprinkling holy water on the lands as well.

The ‘Cracking Eggs’ game – which dates back centuries – is still alive today where two people strike Easter eggs held in their palms against the other. The un-cracked egg holder is the winner as it usually symbolizes the stronger of the two eggs.

Cuisine

Polish national foods include Pierogi – dumplings of Eastern European origin that are stuffed with meat, potatoes, cabbage, cheese or holiday fruits. Meat-filled dough balls, meat and rice stuffed cabbage, and herring are all famous national foods. Poland’s national soup is made of beef and chicken.

Pierogi - Filled dumplings of Eastern European origin.
Pierogi – Filled dumplings of Eastern European origin.

August is the favorite time of year for food enthusiasts to visit Poland! The National Good Taste Festival in Poznań, which usually takes place around mid-August, is a cultural attraction to Europeans in general as well as the Festival of Taste in Gruczno, which takes place after the third week and is marked by the full house of attendees that celebrate this important festival and take part in the culinary competitions to win prizes and throw parties!

May 3rd

On May 3, 1791, the Constitution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was adopted. It was the first codified national constitution in modern Europe and the second in the world, following the American (USA).

Only two days after the Constitution had passed by the Grand Sejm (Polish Parliament), May 3rd was established as a national holiday. It was then suspended for a long time due to the country’s partitioning and was only reestablished after Poland regained its freedom in 1918. After World War II, in 1946, the communist regime forbade its public celebration, and attempts of celebrations were suppressed by the authorities. Since 1990 the 3rd of May, it was again celebrated as an official statutory holiday in Poland, and a red-letter day. Lithuania also celebrates May 3rd, as of 2007.

A particularly solemn atmosphere can be observed during the major 3rd of May Holiday celebrations in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument in Warsaw to cherish the soldiers who died fighting for Poland. It is one of many such national tombs of unknowns that were erected after World War I, and the most important lies in Poland. State authorities, diplomatic delegates and national representatives and thousands of residents in Warsaw pay tribute by attending.

However, the 3rd of May Holiday is a joyful occasion with spring events, concerts, family picnics being held throughout Poland. The 5 kilometer Constitution Run is also annually prepared on the streets of Warsaw.

5 KM Constitutional Run in Warsaw
5 KM Constitutional Run in Warsaw

Other seldom known traditions in Poland

  • A straw is set under each plate at Christmas feast to signify and hope for the righteous path to all the members. Hospitality is part of the polish identity whose people refuse to leave anyone hungry on Christmas.
  • Oczepiny is a Slavic ritual at weddings that has evolved into insane wedding games which include passing food using your mouth and dancing to a romantic waltz with a same sex person!
  • Proprawiny – the continuation or renewal of a wedding party after the original one, a second party is started after the first one. It’s not uncommon that the second wedding party can continue on to the third day!

What do you think?

There it is! Some of the main Polish customs that you’ll probably find on your next trip to Poland! Feel free to leave a comment to ask about anything specific or just express how delighted you are with this column! Which country culture do you think I should tackle next? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

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