Some Lesser-known Traditions of Polish Spring, Lent and Easter

Nostalgic for Poland

by Lorraine Grochowska-Kiefer

Most people who have been to Poland will remember the huge storks nesting atop barns and cottages. These beloved birds come back each March, usually on March 19, St. Joseph's Day, or, the feast of the Annunciation, March 25. These storks, or "bociany" of old Polish legend, are considered to be kindred spirits of man, with many human qualities.

The ancient story says that frogs, lizards, snails and other pests were multiplying excessively and causing great problems. God gathered them all in a sack and told a man to empty the sack into the sea. Curiosity got the best of the poor human and he opened the sack! All escaped, so God changed the man into a stork to hunt them.

Lucky the farmer who has a stork nest on his house or barn! This bird is devoted to its family, often mating at 3 or 4 and remaining with its mate over 50 years. On a beautiful mid-summer evening, Ted and I walked several miles along a field of wheat being harvested. Our destination was an old estate where a bonfire was being "held" for those in the summer language camp. Our host was restoring a beautiful old home and barn. On top of the remains of an ancient stone barn was the largest stork nest I have ever seen.

We enjoyed the delicious food, especially the kielbasa roasted over the fire, our tour of the house, but especially the view of the pair of nesting storks. We took many photos and enjoyed a walk up the hill for a better view as the sun set after 10 p.m.

The stork's return is a bright spot during the fasting of Lent each March in Poland. The Poles still observe Lent, with abstinence from vodka and meat most days. It is no wonder they are glad when Palm Sunday arrives, ushering in the last of the strict Lenten days.

Since palms are not native to Poland, willows and other spring branches or dried flowers and grasses have long been used in place of palms. The most popular is the pussy willow branch, thus giving Palm Sunday the name of Willow Sunday (Niedziela Wierzbowa). These are often used in processions and in Mass. Once blessed, they are put in rafters of barns to protect the building from lightening. Some farmers put them under bee hives for good honey, while others place the "palms" wherever protection is needed. Those who wish good health often eat the catkin from the branch.

As I cut the many pussy willow bushes we have, I think that our family in Poland might be doing the same these early spring days. (I love to make wreaths and other Easter decorations from this wonderful spring plant.)

The long time of fasting ends after the Mass of the Resurrection. Foods that are to be enjoyed, often for the first time since Lent began, are blessed by the priest before they are eaten. Most Poles take a basket of eggs, bread, meat and vodka to church on Holy Saturday to be blessed. Many Polish parishes in this country also do this. Other churches are also starting to bless food if a few Polish families request it. (Our Irish priest does this for the dozen or more Polish Americans in our church.). I am glad we are able to continue this tradition of our family roots in Poland.

Ted plays at the Easter Vigil Mass each year, a very beautiful tradition for us. We love this holiday, decorating our house with pisanki we made, flowers and plants, and lots of home baked Easter goodies. We both feel strongly about family, church and old customs at the holidays.

We wish you all the joy of the Resurrection!

written by Lorraine Grochowska Kiefer

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Lorraine is the host of Triple Oaks Nursery & Herb Garden. Visit her website and shop

Check all the articles about Polish Easter traditions in the Polish Culture website, among them Palm Sunday Traditions in Poland - Easter Palms from Pussy Willows and other Customs and The Storks (Bociany) by Chelmonski - Jigsaw Puzzle .


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