Polish Easter tradition
During Easter, hay is laid on the table.
Bruce and his family practiced this Polish custom when he was a child. Bruces family, and many of his relatives, immigrated to the United States from Poland in the 1920s and lived in the New England area (he lived in Bridgewater, Massachusetts). At Easter, he would get together with all his Polish relatives, and at the house where the festivities were, they would put hay on the main dinner table. He said this was a Polish custom, not a custom that his family learned in the United States, but one that they carried over from Poland.
This tradition was significant for Bruce as a child because the Easter eggs would all be laid on top of the hay. As a child, Easter eggs defined Easter (more-so than religious reasons), and as a child, he always related the hay on the table to the Easter eggs. However, as Bruce grew older, he discovered another meaning to this custom, the real adult religious meaning. Most of his family were Catholics, and he said that the hay on the table was significant for Catholics because it symbolized Jesus being born in a barn in a manger in Bethlehem. He also said that this practice dates back to earlier times in Poland when the church controlled everything in Poland and the country was 100% Catholic. He gives this as a possible way his family learned the tradition.
Bruce gives many reasons and meanings for this tradition, all of which seem valid. It is interesting that this custom exists during Easter, and not Christmas, as the hay symbolizes Jesus birth by being born in a barn. A reason for this could be that Easter is a celebration of Jesus life, and this could be a way of honoring him. Bruce also makes a good point by saying that the church could be at the root of this tradition. Back in earlier times, church and state were inseparable, and many of the customs and laws of the times came not from the state (or government) but from the church. It is very likely that the church instituted this custom, or played a role in making it a custom throughout Poland.
It is also likely that this custom exists outside of Poland and people of Polish heritage. This custom seems to center around Catholicism more than Poland. Since billions of people all over the world are Catholics, it is likely some Catholics, other than those of Polish heritage, put hay on the table over Easter as a symbol for Jesus life and how it started with him being born in a barn in a manger. Yet, I have personally not seen or heard of this tradition before I heard it from Bruce.