Wianki (wreaths) in Polish folk beliefs connected to summer solstice

Symbolism of wianki (wreaths) in Poland

Wianek (plural form: wianki) means a wreath in the Polish language. According to the old-Slavic tradition, wreaths were an important symbol connected to numerous rites and festivals – it was a representation of blooming youth, vitality and virginity. Only young girls and the unmarried women (particularly those who haven’t bore a child yet) were allowed to wear them. They were woven out of local flowers, herbs and plants, often those of magical (e.g. protective) meaning.

Wreaths are extremely important during the Slavic celebrations of the summer solstice, a feast of pre-Christian origins that in Poland holds many names, for example Noc Kupały, Kupalnocka, Sobótki (after a word for Slavic ritual bonfires), Wianki (annual festival held for example in Kraków, called literally ‘Wreaths’) or the Christianized version: Noc Świętojańska (St. John’s Night), Świętojanki, etc.

During that special day, girls were woving the wreaths and dancing around bonfires in rites meaning to evoke fertility, beauty, health and strenght. Some herbs could be also attached to a belt around the waist. Later that night, whole processions were approaching a nearby river [or lake, if no river was available] in order to launch the wreaths down the stream. That part of the custom is still alove today. The wreaths, often attached to a board or two crossed planks with a small candle at the centre, were used in divinations, predicting love and even marriage. Some girls would launch two wreaths at once to observe how they float – if they were staying close together on the water, mutual love was indicated.

Symbolism of wianki (wreaths) in PolandSymbolism of wianki (wreaths) in Poland

In many cases, the boys would jump into the water to pick up a wreath. The most desired sign for a girl was when the wreath was brought back to her by the very boy she cherished in her heart. Some boys would jump even into the strongest streams and deepest waters just to capture a certain wreath, only to give it back to the girl that created it. They were able to confess their love and show the courage that way.

It was once believed that the night is a time of people to fall in love with each other, and to openly express their feelings. It was also the one special night in the old-Slavic calendar when the people were able to choose their sexual partners freely and spend that one night together without being judged. Some couples would even get married later in the same year.

Symbolism of wianki (wreaths) in Poland Symbolism of wianki (wreaths) in Poland Symbolism of wianki (wreaths) in Poland Symbolism of wianki (wreaths) in Poland

Make sure to read more about the Polish midsummer:

Midsummer celebrations in Poland

Check also my gallery with a growing collection of the celebrations of Midsummer depicted in Polish art.


All images in this post via Centrum Kultury Zamek.


Rebloggable version on tumblr.

My list of sources and book recommendations (Polish only).


Please leave a proper credit and a link to this article in case of quoting. With regards, author: Lamus Dworski.

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