USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘poland’
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish Easter Basket Blessing

Nationality: Polish

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Polish

Age: 28

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 15, 2017 (Skype)

 

Christopher is a 28 year old man, born and raised in Warsaw, Poland and who emigrated with his family to the United States when he was 8 years old.  He is a College Graduate with a degree in Political Science. He is currently employed as a doorman in an apartment building in Queens, New York.

 

Interviewer: Good Afternoon. Does today being Holy Saturday bring back any memories of how you celebrated Easter in Poland?

 

Informant: So on Holy Saturday we would wake up very early and we would make um an Easter Basket with the family. Usually the youngest in the family will make the basket and in the basket you would put in a boiled egg, a piece of bread so ah a piece of Kielbasa little items like that. And that Saturday Morning, you and the family would head to Church and the Easter Basket would be blessed by a Priest. You would not be allowed to eat meat until that Easter Basket is blessed. Once the basket is blessed the whole family can enjoy meat on that Saturday. And that is the Polish Tradition of Easter on Holly Saturday.

 

Interviewer: Do you have any special remembrances when you celebrated in Poland as a young child then when you immigrated to the United States?

 

Informant: Oh my best memory is just how people would dress up and take the holiday very seriously. It was a very big, big holiday in Poland growing up.

 

Interviewer: Were there any changes when you got to the United States and the way the Polish Community celebrated Easter as opposed to in Poland?

 

Informant: Well in Poland they would held a big mass and this would take two hours to do. Everyone would get together with the Easter Eggs and baskets and getting blessed.  Over here in America I noticed it is a quick five minute process. You enter the church, you see the priest, then you are right out the door.

 

Interviewer: Now, as you live in America and people are less devoted to faith then in Poland, does the holiday take on another significance beyond religious?

 

Informant: For me personally this is ah about family, it keeps the family together. This tradition keeps the family together. It is about tradition.  Without tradition we start to lose family. As I said, we all get together for dinner, we see each so it is just a great way to catch up with family you haven’t seen in a quite a while.

 

Thoughts about the piece:  

Polish immigrants that want to continue or revive this tradition of “swieconka” in the US, can find a list of church services and traditional basket ingredients on sites like this: http://www.cleveland.com/cooking/index.ssf/2014/04/easter_basket_blessings_of_foo.html Symbolism of basket ingredients is explained here; http://luzdelmes.blogspot.com/2016/03/a-traditional-polish-easter-basket.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

general
Myths

The Polish Eagle

Informant IT is a sophomore studying Computer Science and Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She is of Polish descent and has lived in many parts of the world. She is fluent in several languages including Polish, English, and Mandarin, and she considers herself very good at learning languages. In this piece, she tells the interviewer (AK), about a Polish myth concerning the founding of Poland.

IT: So, this is the story of the Polish Eagle, and how Poland is set to be founded. So the three brothers Lef, Czech, and Bruce were living in small villages. But it came to the point where the villages were just too small to live comfortably. So they set out with some troops and they started going through mountains and rivers and they couldn’t find anyone. And it had gotten to the point where they got to the top of a mountain top and they decided to go 3 separate ways. Lef went straight ahead, Czech went left, and Bruce went right. And Lef went down the mountain and went over another valley, and at the top of another mountain, he saw an eagle flying in the sunset and the light apparently fell very beautifully. Uhh on the head of the crown of the eagle head. That’s why it has a crown on its head on the Polish flag. And he decided that this is where they would settle and they brought all the people there, and they called themselves the Polonians. Which means “The people of the fields”. Yeah, that’s the story of the Polish Eagle and how Poland was founded.

AK: So would you say this is more of a legend, or is it almost accepted as fact of how Poland was created?

IT:  I don’t know if I would say it’s accepted as fact, but every single Polish person knows this story, like there’s movies and games and comics about this.

AK: But it’s just been passed down through generations?

IT: Yeah, yeah and they had flown the flag with the eagle on it and the eagle with the crown on its head when they had founded it way back then. And it’s definitely accepted by everyone now.

I really enjoyed listening to this Polish myth about its creation. It definitely invoked a sense of nationalism and pride in my informant and she even mentioned that every Polish person has definitely heard this story. This is one of the aspects of it that makes it into a myth. It has a sacred truth value since everyone knows the story and has accepted it. I knew just about nothing about Polish culture, so it was really interesting to learn a bit through this piece.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish Name Day

My informant was born in Boston, but his parents immigrated to the United States from Poland. He is an American citizen, but he has spent a few summers in Poland, and his parents keep many Polish traditions alive in his household. He told me about one Polish holiday that he and his family celebrated when he was younger. This is his account:

“In Poland, there’s a tradition called Imieniny, which means Name Day. Just like how we celebrate birthdays here, uh it’s like a special day for everyone—but primarily kids and young people—and it’s just like a day where you’ll get chocolates and small gifts. The gifts are really cheap stuff from your family. Because even though you celebrate birthdays too, they’re not like, quite as big of a hullabaloo as they are here. And it’s just like, a nice day that is about you. So every traditional Polish name—and they’re constantly adding new ones, once they become popular—they get added to the calendar, so if you buy a calendar in Poland, each day has names at the bottom of each day. You get candy and sweets, and maybe a small toy. The gifts aren’t as big or expensive as the ones you might get on your birthday. So one year, just like I usually would, I got nice boxes of chocolate, and my mom cooked my favorite traditional Polish dish: kashanka, which is basically sausage. As I got older, we kind of stopped celebrating Imieniny in my family.”

Analysis: My informant’s description of this particular holiday seemed to bring back fond memories for him. As he said, it was a special day during the year that was “about him.” He got to enjoy special attention and receive gifts from loved ones; in those ways, it is quite similar to a birthday. Yet, I think, this holiday was not only “about him,” but also about Polish pride on a larger scale. This holiday celebrates people with traditional Polish names, thereby commemorating their historic ties to Poland. People have to consult Polish calendars if they want to find their name day, and then they will only find their name if it is considered to be traditionally Polish. For an immigrant family in America, Imieniny might have induced a sense of nostalgia; they were able to spend a day commemorating not only one member of their household, but also the culture that they came from. I would imagine that this kind of celebration would be comforting to immigrants who may feel homesick from time to time, and who value the ties they have to the country they were born in—and where most of their family still resides (as is the case for my informant’s family).

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish Christmas Traditions

Nationality: Polish-American
Primary Language: English
Other language(s): Polish
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, California
Performance Date: April 22, 2013

My informant was born in Boston, but his parents immigrated to the United States from Poland. He is an American citizen, but he has spent a few summers in Poland, and his parents keep many Polish traditions alive in his household. He told me about some of the similarities and differences between the ways that Christmas is celebrated in America versus in Poland. This is his account:

“In Poland, little kids are told that Santa Claus comes in early December. On the 6th, you come home form school. And there are gifts under your pillow. I don’t know why Santa puts gifts under your pillow, but he does. So they’ll be like, chocolates or little toys. Like small-scale gifts, like Pokemon cards or a Gameboy game. And the Polish tradition is to open gifts on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas Day. These are the gifts from family members, not Santa. And then we would sing Polish carols and stuff. Some of them are the same as English songs, but just in polish, like it’ll be “Jingle Bells” sung in Polish.”

Analysis: My informant’s broad descriptions of some of the differences between Polish and American Christmases seem to indicate that many of our traditions are the same. Some noticeable changes are that Santa visited my informant’s family on December 6th, whereas December 24th is his usual visitation date in the United States. My informant also mentioned that he didn’t understand why Santa put gifts under his pillow—instead of in stockings, as is common in the U.S.—but to me, stockings seem stranger than under pillows. This is one example of how certain traditions can develop seemingly arbitrarily; placing presents under pillows did not really make sense to my informant, but his family did it ever year, and putting presents in stockings seems somewhat silly to me, but my family keeps this tradition alive. Despite the lack of concrete explanations for these habits, they still certainly have meaning. Christmas in particular is especially ritualized because of its religious and cultural significance. And although these rituals may differ from Poland to the United States, the fact that citizens from both nations make efforts to sanctify this holiday show that these cultures both see Christmas as an important holiday. This common ground seems more significant to me than the specific differences in how it is celebrated; essentially, Christmas is a unifying celebration for multiple cultures.

Myths
Narrative

Syrena

My informant was born in Boston, but his parents immigrated to the United States from Poland. He is an American citizen, but he has spent a few summers in Poland, and his parents keep many Polish traditions alive in his household. He told me about some of the similarities and differences between the ways that Christmas is celebrated in America versus in Poland. This is his account:

“Okay so, there’s a mermaid, and the Polish word for mermaid is Syrena. I don’t think she has a name. She’s just, like, “the mermaid.” And she frolics the world’s seas, and like waterways, I guess, with her mermaid family, because her dad is the ruler of water. He’s like, the king of water. And then one day she’s just swimming around, and she almost gets caught in a fishing net, and she needs to swim to shore to seek refuge because she’s hurt. And when she gets to the shore, she asks the river—because she can talk to all the waters—she asks the river, “Where am I right now? What’s going on?” And the river’s like, “Oh, you’re in Poland.” And the mermaid is like, “Oh. Okay.” And then the river offers to like, show her the lands, basically. She’s like, “Yeah, just swim upstream, and I can show you the beautiful lands that Poland has to offer.” And the mermaid’s like, “All right. That sounds awesome.” Um… so then they’re swimming, and eventually they swim towards like, a village. It’s called Mazowsze, and she just starts talking to the people there, and they’re all really friendly and hospitable. And she likes them and she decides to like, live with them. So then one day, the tribe is doing a hunt in honor of the prince, for whatever reason. And… But the prince has these golden arrows, and he’s on his last one, and he lost it, and he’s looking around for it on the banks of the river, and he meets up with the mermaid, because the mermaid, it turns out, had the arrow. And so she points him in the right direction of where she saw the reindeer that he was like, tailing. And then they get to this hut of the guy named Mr. Warsz, and he’s very hospitable and gives them food and shelter for the night. So they’re very grateful. And they’re in this beautiful clearing that this guy had like, set up. And then, because the prince was so grateful to this dude, he named the clearing Warszowa, which later became Warszawa, which is the Polish word for Warsaw, which is now the capital of Poland. So that’s the story of how Warsaw came to be.”

Analysis: My informant remembers this story from the times his mother told it to him when he was younger. He thinks she must have learned it from her parents; as he explained, “I mean, it’s a very culturally significant story, so I’m sure she heard it growing up.” This story is classified as a myth because it takes place essentially “before” or “outside” the real world. It has a sacred truth value because it is supposed to be an account of the formation of a nation’s capital; the mermaid likely did not literally exist, but she is accepted as “truth” and as an integral part of the narrative. It can be categorized as an origins story, for, like many myths, it explains how something came to be. These stories are, as my informant says, “culturally significant” because they provide an explanation for why the way the world is the way it is. The fantastical elements—golden arrows, talking mermaids—make the story intriguing, especially for children. Indeed, my informant was a child the first time he heard it. Yet it is also a story for people of all ages; children may be fascinated by the prince and the mermaid, whereas adults may take nationalistic pride in the fact that it is a story about Poland and its capital.

Game
general

Remyk

My informant was born in Boston, but his parents immigrated to the United States from Poland. He is an American citizen, but he has spent a few summers in Poland, and his parents keep many Polish traditions alive in his household. He told me about a card game that a Polish visitor taught him. This is his account:

“Okay so, the game is Remyk. You can play it with anyone you want, because it’s a card game. I learned it from my great-aunt, who came to visit us from Poland. It’s often played by middle-aged people who basically tailgate the parking lot after church. So you play this game with two decks, that’s important. The game is, you get thirteen cards, and you draw from the pile to get fourteen. And you want to get a sequence—so like, 2, 3, 4—or you want like three of a kind of four of a kind. And they’re all worth points; face cards are all worth ten. And to start off, you need to get 52 points before you can, like, lay any cards out. And if you can’t, you have to discard one, so you go back to thirteen cards. And eventually, you’ll have a combination of sequence, and like three of a kind or something, so it all adds up to 52. And then you drop that. So let’s say you drop nine cards, because you have like a 7-8-9 and like, three queens and three jacks. And then you still have, what, 5 cards left? And you discard one and you have four. So then from there the goal is to get rid of all your cards, and you can do so by like, adding on. So you have three queens and you pick up a queen, you can add it, because it’s like the same. Or you can add on to like a sequence. And if it’s like three queens, it has to be the fourth kind. And you just play until you’re done—until the last card is discarded.”

Analysis: My informant associates this card game with Polish culture for a couple of reasons. First of all, he learned it from a Polish relative. Secondly, as he said, the adults who he saw playing this game were all Polish, and they typically played in the parking lots of Polish churches. Yet he also admits that this game is basically gin rummy, a card game enjoyed by all nationalities of people today. A quick Google search of “origins of rummy” yields answers ranging from New York City to “the orient.” This game, then, is yet another example of the dissemination of traditions, and how difficult it is to pinpoint exactly which culture can “claim” something as their own. For my informant, this game connected him to the country his parents grew up in as well as to the various groups of people with whom he played the game. He said he usually played Remyk with his family, so the game was something for them to bond over. Therefore, Remyk is not only culturally significant to my informant, but it is important to him on an individual level as well. It connects him to his family. It is fascinating how something as simple as a card game can have more impactful implications when explored more deeply.

Earth cycle
Festival
Folk Dance
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Eve of St. John’s Fires

On the midsummer solstice, or the Eve of St. John, fires are lit and maidens wear wreaths in their hair to celebrate the longest day of the year.

 

My informant first attended this festival with her family as a little girl, and mostly remembered the beautiful wreaths all of the girls would wear in their hair.  She was also able to recall the many fires that were lit and that the men in attendance would jump across them.  Also, those in attendance would stay out all day without sleeping to celebrate the length of the day and to appreciate the sunshine.  At the end of the festival, all of the girls will throw their wreaths into the fires.

One of the most interesting aspects of this festival is that the different flowers worn in a girl’s wreath have different meanings.  My informant remembers wearing white roses, which she remembers symbolized simplicity and purity.  Perhaps the most significant flowers worn in the wreaths were lavender and myrtle, and they both represent love.  If a girl wears one of these flowers in her wreath, throws her wreath into the fire and the burning wreath is thrown into the river and recovered by a single man, the girl would be said to be engaged to that man, by tradition. Symbolically, this union represents the birth of a new relationship, and the longer days are conducive to this birth.

This festival is uniquely Polish and has been celebrated for more than a thousand years.  While mostly celebrative in the native Poland, my informant knows several Poles in other countries that also celebrate the Eve of St. John’s and she believes it’s, “because it’s romantic to look back on one’s culture.”

[geolocation]