Holy Saturday was (and still is) the day of blessing water, fire and food. On this day a big bonfire was prepared in front of the church. After the ceremony of blessing the fire, everyone wanted to take home at least a small part of a burning twig to protect their home and land against storms and hail. During the first spring plowing farmers spilled ashes from this bonfire onto the ground.
After the ceremony of blessing fire there was the ceremony of blessing water. Everybody took some blessed water home. The men sprinkled everything in the house and farmyard including the animals with it. The leftover water was kept until the next Holy Saturday. It was used in case of illness and at time when God’s blessing was needed.
During all of Saturday, priests were blessing food, which were eaten the next day. On this day nobody brought their food to the church as we do today. It was the priests who wandered from manors to backwaters and villages. In villages women met together in one place, put their baskets on the ground and uncovered what they had brought. There was a big quantity of everything (not just the symbolic dishes that we take to church today) and it all smelled good. After six weeks of fasting, the contents of the baskets must have teased the noses of the people. There were in these baskets pisanki, fresh cottage cheese, eggs, horseradish, butter, salt, bread, sausages, smoked bacon and sometimes pound cake and even piglet. All of this was decorated with myrtle so it had to be a real temptation after so many days of fast.
According to old beliefs, blessed food had great power. After coming back home, people carried the basket of blessed food (called in Polish Święconka’) around the house three times to protect provisions against rats and mice and to secure affluence. What more, the ‘Święconka’ was supposed to protect villages against any disasters.
In the old days Holy Saturday ended with a Resurrection Mass at midnight. Today this Mass begins on Sunday morning (at 6.00 A.M.). Everybody wanted to attend this Mass because whoever was not present in church was deprived of the right to eat the food blessed the previous day. Who would like to deserve such a punishment? ;))
At the beginning of the Resurrection Mass, the people went in procession around the church three times, following a priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament and singing joyful Easter songs. After this Mass, the most frequently used word was Alleluja, which means Glorify the Lord. Also, after this Mass people greeted each other with the special words “Christ rose from the dead” to which one replied. It is true that He rose from the dead?. Today in many homes we can hear the same words on Easter Sunday morning.
Sunday morning brought what was most longed-for during Lent – the chance to be a glutton. Family breakfast began (and still does) by sharing blessed eggs (similar to Christmas Eve supper, which began by sharing a blessed wafer). After this ceremony you could eat whatever one wanted: veal, pork fat, sausage, eggs and everything with horseradish. This day was reserved for family, and only on Monday did neighbors pay visits to each other.
The Monday after Easter was a day of joy and frolic. But first of all it was a day of sprinkling everybody with water.
It had various names. Today we know it as “Śmigus-Dyngus” or “Lany Poniedziałek”. There were many techniques of sprinkling, from gentle sprinkling with perfume to pouring full buckets of water on one another or throwing somebody into a pond. Although it was not always nice, no girl wanted to stay dry because that would mean a lack of popularity with the boys.
For more even fun, boys sitting on tree branches or on the top of a roof delivered short rhymes, often very malicious, in honor of the girls. But the real offence would be the lack of such a rhyme for a girl, so each of them wanted to hear something about herself.
There was one more custom connected to Easter. During Christmas boys were wandering “po kolędzie”, and similarly during Easter they wandered “po dyngusie”. They went from one home to another singing, wishing the best for their hosts and waiting for some food and booze.
Easter is a time of happiness. It is the time when Jesus defeats death and gives people hope for eternal life. Spring brings sun and together with that promises and hopes for rich crops and full granaries. And it is the end of the gloomy and hungry time of Lent, when both good food and games were forbidden. When Easter comes you can eat what you want and have as much joy as you wish. And whenever Poles had the opportunity, they never suffered from a lack of will to have a good time.
Read the Polish version of the article: http://polishorigins.com/document/easter2_pl
Polskie Tradycje Świą teczne by Hanna Szymanderska, Warszawa 2003