Breads as such hold a special symbolic place in the Polish culture, rooted strongly in old agrarian pre-Christian rituals of the Slavic people (I wrote a separate article about that topic – click here to read it).
Tradition of preparing the bread called ‘kukiełka’ which I’m going to describe below has survived in the village of Podegrodzie in southern Poland, among a few other places. Podegrodzie cherished this tradition for the longest, and it’s where the custom was passed down with many details showing a clear connection to old pagan beliefs. The ritual ‘kukiełka’ bread from that area is unique due to its size, and the recipes that had been developed by the local people in the past placed it on the official registry of the regional food products of Poland as ‘kukiełka podegrodzka’ (kukiełka bread from Podegrodzie).
The ‘kukiełka’ (cook-yeh-oo-kah) bread a type of a ceremonial bread, a remnant of old-Slavic customs of preparing certain ritual foods for passage ceremonies.
In the village of Podegrodzie in the past this particular bread was gifted to a newborn’s family 2 weeks after the Christening (as documented by 19th-century ethnographers), usually prepared by the godmother herself and given during a lavish feast called ‘wiązowiny’. Name of that feast is derived from the verb ‘wiązać’ (meaning roughly ‘to tie’ or ‘to bind’) – it was organized to welcome a new child in the community. This tradition, along with preparations of the ‘kukiełki’, was still alive in Podegrodzie as late as in the first half of 20th century.
In many of local families the gifting of ‘kukiełki’ wasn’t stopping there, and the child was receiving one of those breads each new year until they reached 10 years of age.
Literal meaning of the word kukiełka itself is a ‘small puppet’ or a ‘small effigy’ in the Polish language.
The ‘kukiełka’ bread is made of soft, sweet and aromatic dough. The dough is always ‘braided’ and can take many decorative forms of a symbolic nature. The bread can reach even up to 1.5 meters in the lenght (an average size of children between 8-12 years of age) and it can weigh over 10 kilograms. A basic local recipe for ‘kukiełka’ included milk, yeast and śmietana (East European type of sour cream) among other ingredients – often secret ones. The recipes varied even among neighbouring households, and sometimes were passed down from generation to generation as one of the family secrets.
Online articles in Polish to read more: