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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Linden Tree. Trees in the Polish (Slavic) folklore and culture: part 1

An old linden tree in the Zawieprzyce Park, archival photo by Stanisław Pastusiak via

Linden trees were among the most sacred trees in the Slavic tradition, just as in many other cultures where these trees can be naturally found in the climate. In the old days in Poland a linden tree was believed to have strong protective properties and was commonly associated with ‘female’ aspects of the nature (paired with an oak tree representing the nature’s ‘masculine’ side in the rural traditions). Its natural ability to a quick recovery was praised and symbolized rebirth and fertility, extremely important for example in the spring and summer rituals.

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Holy Mother of Gromnice (Thunder Candles), or the Divine Mother with Wolves

If you haven’t heard of the gromnice (thunder candles) yet, please read this article first.

In the Polish rural beliefs and legends connected to the wintertime the Holy Mother is often described as a ‘Maiden protecting from wolves‘. She’s also taking care of these animals so that they don’t attack the human settlements.

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Candlemas Day and the ‘thunder candles’ (gromnice) in Poland

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Images above © Ethnographic Museum of the Radom Region, Poland.

Rural celebrations of the Candlemas Day in Poland show remnants of old-Slavic protective rituals conducted with use of a gromnica (the so-called ‘thunder candle’).

The Candlemas Day is celebrated on February 2nd, and marks the end of a carnival (’zapusty’ in Polish). That day is also officially the last day of a ‘Christmas season’ in Poland and the last occasion to sing the traditional carols together – also the day when all the remaining Christmas decorations should be removed (yes, in Poland the Christmas trees are very often kept in houses even until February).

That day has a distinctive name in Poland, connected to ancient Slavic beliefs and rituals: Święto Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej, what could be translated to English as a ‘Festivity of the Holy Mother of the Thunder Candle’.

The important symbolic accessories connected to this holiday is the so-called gromnica (plural form: gromnice), sacred candles believed to ensure a general protection. Name of these candles is derived from the word grom (thunder). These candles are long and relatively thick, often decorated with religious inscriptions and images. In many Polish folk beliefs gromnica is compared to a human, and its wick to a soul. It’s believed that gromnica symbolizes the light of life, and the triumph of soul and mind over body and flesh.

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