Dożynki, the ancient harvest festival
“Udane plony”, Leon Bigosiński (1871-1928).  Source:

Dożynki is an annual harvest festival celebrated in Poland around the turn of August and September that dates back maybe even to the ancient times. To majority of acclaimed historic Polish folklorists, researchers, and poets, such as Oskar Kolberg, Zygmunt Gloger, Ignacy Krasicki, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, and numerous others, it’s been more than clear that dożynki hold many remnants of a pre-Christian feast of fertility and crops, dedicated to gods of prolificacy, celebrated in rural communities over the centuries ever since the pagan times and eventually syncretized with Christianity.

You might’ve already heard about that festival under the name of dozhinki (how it is very often spelled in the English language). Remnants of that mysterious Slavic festival survived in all Slavic countries under many similar names in local forms of harvest festivities. In Poland it’s been known also under names of wyżynki, obżynki (these two along with the name of dożynki are related to the word żeniec – old Polish word for a reaper), okrężne (from okrężny – roundabout, coming from a custom of ritual encircling of the crop fields), wieńcowe, wieńczyny (from wieniec – wreath or garland), and other regional names that could also be used separately to describe certain parts or rituals performed during that festival.

Before I go into details, I recommend you first to read my older article describing the symbolism of bread, and the rituals of the season of harvest itself before continuing to read about dożynki which is the culminating point of that season.

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Old-Slavic symbolism of bread and harvest rituals in Poland

Bread in Poland
Harvest festival in Lublin, Poland. Photo © Małgorzata Genca.

Polish folk culture cultivates bread and grains in a special manner, rooted in old-Slavic beliefs and agrarian mythology syncretized with Christianity in Poland over the centuries.

The great importance is still noticeable even from a linguistic point of view. The Polish word zboża (also: zboże), describing all types of domesticated cereals, has the same root as the adjective boży meaning divine and of the God.

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Ritual bread: ‘kukiełka’ from Podegrodzie

Kukiełki breads on an archival photograph published by Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw

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).

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