Time and space of Polish Easter holidays

Danuta Nespiak

Easter is the biggest Christian holiday, is a holiday of hope; it commemorates the victory of Christ over death and sin. No philosophical system or institution of this world can cross out this truth of history.
Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter vigil are special holidays in the Polish tradition. In the First Polish Republic Palm Sunday was called Flower Sunday. On that day all believers in the country cottages and manor houses, in small and big towns went to church with palms. In those times the palm was regarded as having curative and magic meaning. The district of Wilno was famous for its long beautiful palms made from herbs and flowers. It was still in the Second Republic that the resurrection procession was on Holy Saturday. It was accompanied by bells, mortar salvos and rifle shots. The uhlans, firemen, members of guilds and the company of the Sokol Gymnastic Society [Sokol means falcon], which was in all borderland towns, fired shots. Visits to the Lord's tombs finished on Holy Saturday. And on Easter Sunday all people in Poland ate Easter breakfast, which began with sharing a blessed egg. The tradition has been continued all over Poland.
Easter Monday was famous for its common custom of dousing young women with water, which was kept in villages and towns. This custom has pagan roots, related to the cleansing power of water. The custom had a different character in every Polish region. In Podole young men lashed young women, who were running away, before dousing them with water. The girl who was caught had to buy herself out with painted eggs. In Poland the custom of painting Easter eggs was known already in the 13th century. Wincenty Kadlubek, Bishop of Krakow, mentioned it in his chronicle. It was the young women who painted Eater eggs.
The Polish Easter holidays, celebrated in the tragic times of the Second World War, were imprinted on our national memory. Rev. Stanislaw Bizun, DD, vice-rector of the Major Seminary in Lvov, recollected the Easter of 1940, 'I heard the sermon of Fr Wlodzimierz Cienski in the Church of Mary Magdalene. It contained a very patriotic, deep and fighting message - do not yield, suffer in silence, do not grumble, help one another, survive! Poland lives and fights. Resurrection is the end of Calvary' ('Historia krzyzem znaczone. Wspomnienia z zycia Kosciola katolickiego na ziemi lwowskiej 1939-1945', [History Marked by the Cross. Reminiscences about the Life of the Catholic Church in the Land of Lvov] Lublin 1994, p. 81).
On Holy Saturday, 23rd March 1940, NKWD came to arrest Bronislaw Brzezicki, uhlan of the famous Jazlowiecki Cavalry Regiment, in Lvov. Then he was in prison, he was sent to Vladivostok. He roved through the vast areas of the inhuman land, Tehran and wilderness of Iraq. Brzezicki reached the Holy Land. Then he was the officer of the 7th infantry division of General Szyszko-Bohusz.
On Good Friday, 30th March 1945, he walked with his colleagues in Jerusalem and they carried alternately a cross along Via Dolorosa. There is the third station of the way of the cross, the place where according to the tradition Christ fell for the first time. This is the so-called Polish station in the form of a small chapel crowned with the Polish eagle. Brzezinki noted, 'The beautiful afternoon was simply mercilessly hot... the fifth procession to Calvary in a row consisted of crowds of exiles, the army, dashing young blades and Polish scouts' (Z lagru Nachodka do Ziemi Swietej [From the Soviet Labour-Camp of Nachod to the Holy Land], London 1974, p. 251).
In the same year, 1945, thousands of kilometres away from Jerusalem, Maria Kulczynska, wife of the last rector of the Jan Kazimierz University of Lvov, worked in the coalmine in Donbas. After years she recollected, 'On the first day of Easter I went to work, 300 meters underground...' (Lwow-Donbas 1945, Warsaw 1989, p. 24).
On the Easter Sunday of 1945 Fr Jozef Anczarski left Tarnopol to minister in the neighbouring village Janowka. In his book he wrote on that day, 'We were only left with God. Despite all difficulties we believe that we will win. And so does the nation. God will not leave us. The Lord said, "Be brave. I have conquered the world"' (Kronikarskie zapisy z lat cierpien i grozy w Malopolsce Wschodniej 1939-1946 [Chronicle Notes from the Years of Suffering and Horror in Eastern Little Poland 1939-1945], Krakow 1996, p. 434).
The Easter bells will always proclaim the Resurrection of Christ to the world, the victory of life over death, good over evil, spirit over matter. Will these truths reach the contemporary man, living in the noise and chaos of constant information and in pursuit of success? Will the secularised Europe hear it?

"Niedziela" 16/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl