My informant was raised in Poland and has lived there most of her life. In the late 1970’s, she first participated in this traditional festival as one of her Girl Scout activities. She explained that this festival dates back to pagan times, and that everyone was allowed to participate. They would build a doll of straw and tree branches and dress it in old clothes. The clothes were supposed to look rather trashy and they would decorate the doll to look ugly. Then everyone would gather around to throw the doll into a river. Hence, the Americanized name for this festival is the Drowning of the Doll.
Traditionally, the doll symbolizes winter. After months of freezing weather, the Polish wish to free themselves of the cold, so they personify the winter as a doll. My informant explained that the doll “symbolizes winter, so it’s ugly.” Then, when the doll is thrown into the river, it’s like they’re killing the winter that has passed and they can look forward to warmer months.
The festival is only celebrated by the Polish because it represents their unique pagan past, a time without the foreign influences of modern times. This does not mean that this holiday is only celebrated in Poland. My informant has not attended Marzanna since her youth, but she has heard of instances of people of Polish heritage having their own festivals in other countries to connect them with their homeland