This custom was a part of Slavic spring celebrations, appearing during various festivals and rituals throughout the spring season in Poland and in many other Slavic countries. Gaik usually appears as a small tree or a branch (most often a local type of a conifer tree, or a birch tree) decorated with colorful ribbons and other adornments, depending on the occasion (for example trinkets, flowers and bells, or colorful pisanki made on emptied eggshells hanging from the branches). Gaik is known under many different regional names in Poland, and you can find it under numerous names such as: gaj, goik, gaiczek, maj, maik, mojik, sad, nowe lato, nowe latko, turzyce.
Siuda Baba. How a tale about a ‘pagan’ Slavic Priestess survived in Polish folklore
Siuda Baba, a person appearing on the Easter Monday in only a few villages in southern Poland, is a great example of how bits of the informations about the old religions and customs were carried on by rural communities over the long centuries and how they survived in a form of local folklore traditions.
This custom can be still observed in the town of Wieliczka and a few neighbouring villages, notably in the village of Lednica Górna where it most likely originated from and where it’s still recreated every year on the Easter Monday – the day of Śmigus Dyngus or Lany Poniedziałek (Wet Monday). It’s connected to the old pre-Christian Slavic religion and the Slavic spring rites.
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Rękawka, a Slavic spring festival in Kraków
One of the events of the most mysterious roots held in the city of Kraków (Cracow) in Poland is a festival called Rękawka (pronounced ren-kav-kah), organized on the first Tuesday after Easter on the famous Krakus Mound, one of the 5 historical man-made mounds that you can see nowadays in Kraków.
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Folk rites and beliefs associated with Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało) in Poland
Out of all religious holidays in Poland the Corpus Christi, movable feast that falls in June on 11th day after Pentecost (called Green Week in Poland), remains one of the most important and colorful feasts celebrated by the Polish people during the late spring. Outside of the religious (Catholic) sphere that day has also deep undertones coming entirely from rural customs and rites of pagan roots that survived in the Polish countryside over past centuries almost unchanged. Just as in the case of the Pentecost, the rural traditions link both of these holidays to pre-Christian celebrations of full-spring, and are connected to many other customs of old-Slavic origins.
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Zielone Świątki, so-called Green Week celebrated on Pentecost
The feast of Green Week (Zielone Świątki) is celebrated in Poland around mid-May towards early June – it’s syncretized with the movable celebrations of Pentecost that starts 50 days after Easter. These festivities show many elements of pre-Christian Slavic spring rituals.
Green Week is connected to Slavic rituals of celebrating the full spring and the reborn greenery (the nature fully reborn after winter) after all the tree branches had already turned green. Its core nature is a form of maintenance of the rhythm of the nature, with magical practices of purifying the surroundings from demons or evil spirits that might have an effect on the further process of growth towards the end of spring. Goal of these rituals was designed to boost nature’s fertility, the ability to grow, and to prepare the soil, crops and livestock for the upcoming summer season and the later (expectantly abundant) harvest.
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Śmigus Dyngus, also called Lany Poniedziałek (Wet Monday) in Poland
This day, also called Lany Poniedziałek (Wet Monday) or just Dyngus, is an ancient pagan tradition celebrated in Poland on the Easter Monday, nowadays intertwined with the Christian celebrations of Easter.
It has its roots in old Slavic traditions of throwing water on people in rites meaning to purify them for the arrival of spring. On that day, groups of boys (often in festive clothing) were throwing water on the girls or even soak them completely in nearby rivers and lakes. Naturally, the girls were getting their ‘revenge’ in a similar way.
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Palm Sunday and the symbolic ‘Easter palms’ in Poland
Tradition of preparing the decorative and colorful ‘Easter palms’ for the blessing in churches on the Palm Sunday (last Sunday of the Lents before Easter) is an old and very important custom in Poland.
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Drowning and burning of Marzanna in Poland
Celebrated around March 21st (first day of spring) or on the 4th Sunday of the Lents before Easter, the custom of burning of Marzanna symbolizes the departure of winter and is rooted in pre-Christian Slavic rites that were performed to summon the spring. Originally it was celebrated during the spring equinox as a religious feast of the Slavic pagans, and it survived over the last thousand years despite the huge impact of Christianity and countless efforts of erasing that custom from the Polish countryside.
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Spring blessing of cattle in Poland
Milk and dairy were one of the most important food products for people living in the rural areas of Poland, and therefore various customs involving cattle and barns were performed throughout the year. They are connected to various pre-Christian Slavic rites, and contain many magical elements that were meant to protect the valuable cattle for example from diseases or sorcery. The celebrations were usually held individually in each farm in a village.