Easter in Poland is a beautiful Polish holiday that straddles Christian and pagan traditions. Because the majority of Poland’s population identifies as Catholic, it follows the Western church calendar in its celebrations, and Christian symbolism is strong in the observance of this holiday.
However, like Easter in Lithuania, Poland’s neighbor, Catholicism and pre-Christian beliefs mingle into one colorful holiday that rivals only Christmas in importance.
Poland’s Easter traditions include Easter eggs, Easter palms, and of course, a large Easter meal with family, where particular dishes are enjoyed year after year. Learn how Poles create a holiday that honors their heritage.
The Palm Sunday (Niedziela Palmowa) ritual in Poland includes Poles taking Easter palms to church. Due to its climate, real palms don’t grow in Poland, so Polish people have traditionally made do with one of two options.
The first option is pussy willow branches. These symbols of spring are also a part of Easter traditions in Estonia. Of course, who can resist the fuzzy buds that appear during this time of year? In folk superstition, eating one of the catkins was supposed to ward off ill health.
Polish Easter Palms
The second option is handmade Easter palms—a beautiful example of folk art from Poland. These bright and imaginative bouquets of dried flowers and grasses stand out against even a gray sky—not uncommon for the Easter time of year in Poland.
Regional differences account for the vast variety of Easter palms that you’ll see in Poland—whether fat and fluffy, long and skinny, or sturdy and stout, Easter palms help mark the beginning of the Easter week.
Polish Easter palms were traditionally associated with rituals and superstitions, for example, switching your cow with an Easter palm to ensure that it provides plenty of milk. They were, in addition, widely used for protection and good health, warding off evil or sickness from animals or people.
Easter Palms are also a focus of processions or competitions in some parts of Poland.
Easter Saturday in Poland
Easter Saturday has had long had traditional significance in Poland. As the day before Easter Sunday, it allows a family to prepare for the big day with food and colored eggs.
On Easter Saturday, Poles bring Easter baskets, full of Polish traditional Easter foods, to church for blessing (called Święconka in Polish). (If you are familiar with Ukrainian Easter traditions, you’ll notice some similarities.) The contents of these baskets have special meaning in the context of the Christian Easter story.
The foods in the Easter basket are full of symbolism:
- Butter, sometimes shaped into a lamb: goodwill
- Easter babka: Christ as the bread of life
- Salt: purification
- Ham: abundance
- Easter eggs: the Resurrection
Polish Easter baskets may also contain sausage, bacon, cheese, and a candle. The bearers of the baskets decorate them with ribbons and greenery. They top the basket off with a linen cloth. When the time for blessing arrives, the priest sprinkles the basket with holy water.
The blessed foods are enjoyed as a part of the Easter Sunday meal the next day.
Polish Easter Eggs
Polish Easter eggs (pisanki) may be one of the best-known Easter traditions from Poland. These brightly painted eggs find their way into Easter baskets, and while their current symbolism may be Christian, the practice of decorating eggs dates back thousands of years.
Pisanki artists use a variety of techniques to decorate their eggs. While the most traditional of these “written eggs” are dyed, these eggs may also be scratched, painted, or decorated with paper or yarn.
Today, Easter Saturday is often set aside for coloring Easter eggs, but in the past, Easter egg decorating in Poland started weeks before.
For Poles, Easter Sunday (Wielka Niedziela) typically begins with an early-morning church service.
After the family returns from church, the feasting begins. What’s designated as an Easter “breakfast” is actually an entire day of grazing on traditional foods with family members. The meal begins with sharing the items from the Easter basket, blessed the day before.
Other staples of the Polish Easter feast are enjoyed throughout the day. For example, rye soup served in a bread bowl, Polish vegetable salad, sausage, pork in aspic, and cabbage rolls are all good contenders for the traditional Polish Easter meal.
Ideally, these foods are prepared in the days leading up to Easter Sunday so that nobody has to do any work in the kitchen.
Of course, what would a proper holiday feast be without sweets? The Polish table, in addition to being laden with meats and other favorites of Polish cuisine, will certainly feature a selection of Polish desserts.
- Babka may be the most famous of these end-of-meal pastries. Babka is a Bundt cake that can be made in a simple, plain vanilla flavor or with additions such as chocolate. The fanciful molds—with the characteristic hole in the center—that form the Easter babka make these cakes a beautiful addition to the holiday table.
- Mazurek is a cake with a short crust base topped with a fruit spread and, often, a layer of sponge cake, decorated with icing, dried fruit, and nuts. Mazurek relies on family recipes as well as the imagination of the chef, who really gets to express themselves when they decorate this dessert.
- Sernik is Polish cheesecake made with Polish farmers cheese and often frosted with chocolate or topped with fruit. Polish cooking experts emphasize that it’s the special cheese that gives this cheesecake its particular texture.
- Makowiec is a poppyseed roll. Honey, walnuts, and raisins lend this cake—which, traditionally, is not very sweet—its nuance. This dessert is also eaten for Christmas in Poland.
Egg Cracking Game
Though people eat eggs on this day, Easter eggs are also used to play a game. Like Easter in the Baltics and elsewhere in Europe, Easter in Poland involves one person cracking their hard-boiled egg against the shell of another’s to see whose egg comes out whole.
Smigus-Dyngus, or Wet Monday, follows Easter Sunday. On this day, we see the influence of more age-old pagan practices, such as people switching each other with a pussy willow, also typical to Easter in Latvia. Such practice has long been associated with fertility—appropriate given that Easter is a spring holiday!
Another fertility ritual—from which the day gets its name—is boys or young men dousing girls or young women with water. However, no one is really safe on this day and may be in for a sprinkling or a soaking. Some families have their own ways of dousing each other on this day, keeping squirt guns for this purpose, for example.
In the past, this ritual was more elaborate, with some young women being drenched in their beds or dragged off to a stream for a dunking. In some regions, young men dressed up in search of their “victims.”
Celebrate Easter in Poland with Markets
Though the Easter holidays see a slowdown of public transportation and the closure of shops, visitors to Poland can take advantage of Easter in Poland by visiting Easter markets, where swirls of color, beautiful crafts, and a celebration of the springtime bring city centers alive after the cold months of winter.
The most famous Polish Easter Market is the one on Krakow’s Market Square. They’re one of the best things to do in Krakow during this season! Here, vendors sell Easter essentials—think Easter eggs, Easter lambs made of pastry or sugar, and Easter palms. However, traditional handicrafts and foods are also available for purchase. Music and other entertainment accompany the largest Easter markets in Poland, creating a festive atmosphere.
Of course, Krakow isn’t the only city to host an Easter market. They also pop up in other cities such as Warsaw and Gdansk as well as smaller Polish cities. These markets may not run as long as Krakow’s, which enjoys a full two weeks before Easter, so it’s important to check local events calendars for the locations, dates, and times of markets elsewhere in Poland.