Warsaw – What to See in Holy Week
17 March, 2015
Holy Week coincides with the onset of spring, a season associated with milder temperatures. Although you should still pack some warm clothes – jerseys, jacket, raincoat, gloves, cap and scarf – it’s unlikely to snow in Warsaw, unless you’re in the higher mountain areas. And, by early April, the days are quite long and sunny. Unlike in other European countries, during Holy Week in Poland both the Thursday and Friday are working days and most of the museums and shops are open to the public. Visiting hours at churches may be different, however, as in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, where the largest Good Friday procession of all Poland is held.
As in other areas where the Catholic festivities are traditionally observed, Palm Sunday is celebrated here in style. Like in Spain, in Poland the faithful carry palms, but here they are far more elaborate. Dried flowers and paper flowers go into their careful making by hand. They are so popular here that many towns and villages organise palm contests. We recommend taking the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Lyse, in the region of Masovia, where you can find palms of up to 6 metres high.
Cultural activity also revolves around Easter. The keynote event is the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival. Held in Warsaw, as well as in Krakow and Gdansk, it attracts classical music virtuosos from all over to perform a number of works based on Holy Week themes. The festival alone makes it well worth visiting the city. Over the festive period churches host classical music concerts. The programme features religious works, pride of place going to the staging of the Lord's Sepulchre. This is undoubtedly a good reason for visiting the holy precincts of Poland’s capital city. Even under the Communist regime the uncensored sepulchres stood for the most important political events of the time.
Another high moment of the holy celebration is the blessing of the food. Starting on Easter Saturday morning, crowds of people congregate at the churches bearing adorned baskets containing, in addition to the classical hand-painted Easter eggs, bread, salt, pepper, sausage and an endless assortment of Easter pastries to have them blessed. Once the ritual has been completed, they may then eat meat. In bygone days the baskets’ contents were indicative of the purchasing power of the various families – the greater the amount and variety of food, the high their economic status.
Easter eggs are decorated in different ways and this is often the favourite activity of the younger members of the household. Once boiled, the easiest thing is to colour them with polychromed powders dissolved in water. These colours are sold in small sachets at this time of year. A more natural technique is to boil the eggs in a pot with onion skins, giving the eggshells a dark tinge and, the more onion skin you use, the darker the colour. After the eggshell has dried out, it can be drawn on or incised using a sharp needle.
Easter Monday is noticeably more playful in character and closely linked to rural traditions. In Polish it is known as Lany poniedzialek – “Water Monday” – as Slavic tradition has it that throwing water over the girls is believed to ensure their health and fertility. So, make sure you keep your eyes skinned because even today you can have a bucket of cold water thrown over you.
Cuisine is important in Poland at Easter and tables are decked out with Easter eggs, symbols of a new life. Confectionery also plays a major role, particularly mazurek, a cake based on butter and very thick cream, eggs, sugar and flour. It is also stuffed with nuts, chocolate and fruit (orange or lemon). Another cake typically made during this festive season is kaimak. Although similar to mazurek, the dough contains liquid toffee.
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Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación
Images by Polish National Tourist Office
17 March, 2015