Polish Lent Tradition

Read a recipe for Herring with Potatoes - a favorite dish of Poles for Ash Wednesday. Read also about why Lent occurs in early Spring.


Poles seem to be more attached to the tradition of Lent, Jesus Christ's suffering and crucifixion than to the tradition of Christ's resurrection. Maybe this is because Poland as a country suffered a lot during its history either being attacked by other nations or even subdued. As an example in one time in XVII century Poles have to defend their country from three different attackers. Poland was erased from the world map in the XIX century when it was partitioned by Prussia, Russia and Austria. As you all probably know the aggression of Nazi Germany at Poland began the Second World War. It resulted in another partition because Poland was invaded from the West by Germany and from the East by Soviet Union. Many Poles felt as if the fate of Poland and Poles was ultimately connected with the suffering of Jesus on the cross. The martyrdom of Poland is associated by many with the martyrdom of Christ.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. The typical meal for Ash Wednesday consists of non-peeled cooked potatoes eaten with herring.

The main religious worship during Lent time the celebration of the Stations of the Cross. Sometimes the stations are built as separate chapels. The stations which are usually built on the high ground are called Kalwaria from the word "calvary". The most famous is Kalwaria Zebrzydowska near Wadowice, Pope John Paul II's birthplace (see the beautiful picture of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska here). Kalwaria Zebrzydowska's church was modelled after the church of Golgotha in Jerusalem. People come here for retreats and on pilgrimages. They walk from one chapel to another to pray and contemplate Jesus Christ's last road to Golgotha. Also many tourists visit here year round.

Many Lenten services and ceremonies in the Polish church are just like everywhere else but we have also some quite typical Polish ceremonies. One of them is called "Gorzkie Zale" [gosh-geh-zahl-leh] = lenten lamentations. The service consists of chanting and texts reflecting on the mystery of Christian redemption, the Passion and death of the Christ. The service consists of introductory hymn, intention (spoken text about different parts of the Lords passion), the hymn focuses on the particular suffering of Christ, the soul's lament, the dialogue of Mary with the soul and the final repetitive motif of lamentation.
You can listen to the final refrain (everybody in Poland knows it) under this link (at the bottom of the page after the explanation):

In one church in Krakow (Franciscas Basilica) exists an unusual fraternity established 400 years ago. This fraternity (for lay men) is called "(Arch) Fraternity of God's Passion" (Arcybractwo Meki Panskiej) or "Fraternity of Good Death" (Arcybractwo Dobrej Smierci). The members of this fraternity hold a special ceremony on Good Friday before the Easter. They participate in a special Passion mass all wearing black costumes with black hoods. They use a cross, scullbones and some other scary symbols in their celebrations.

Below is one of the photos from the ceremony:

If you want to see more pictures go here .

Read the selection of Easter articles
Below is a link to Polish customs' book written by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, Mary Anne Knab (Illustrator). It is entitled Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore

We were talking about difficult Polish history. Here is one of the books that I recommend for the beginners. This overview of Polish history was written by Adam Zamoyski and it is entitled:
The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture

written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, March 2001 (article #29)

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