I think I wrote about this before. about the interesting mechanism of reminiscing and remembering. and nostalgia. romanticising. idealising places, people, events from the past, simply because we miss them.
i keep asking myself: to what extent do we really romanticise and idealise the past? isn’t it rather the mere fact of not being able to appreciate something when it’s right in front of us? there is a saying in Poland (maybe in other places, too): the neighbour’s grass is always greener. it’s quite interesting how human perception works. how difficult it is sometimes to stop for a second and notice what’s around us. rather than being constantly in awe of everything unknown – appreciate our own local for once.
ever since i moved out from Poland, I find myself longing for things i didn’t acknowledge existed when i lived there. or i was not interested and dismissive of all the customs and traditions my family was trying to pass on to me. now, i find myself calling my mum or nan and asking about things. now – i want to know.
it was a Palm Sunday yesterday and i spent it at work. few years ago, it would have been unimaginable not to go to church with a palm. and it’s not because all the people in Poland are extraordinarily religious or pious (who knows, maybe they are?), it’s because the ‘folk’ traditions are so inseparably interweaved with the Christian traditions. the church has adopted many pagan customs, and transformed into catholic (or Christian) ones. and there is a reason why the churches are full to the capacity on every bigger holiday in Poland: these are the times when the families meet, when the traditional foods are being prepared, sometimes traditional clothes are worn, old customs are followed. this atmosphere of participating in something important and deeply rooted in tradition is, in my humble opinion, unique. the countless occasions on which women in the village gather to prepare foods and decorations for certain celebrations, spend (often) many evenings working together on something as perishable as traditional foods or paper flowers. why?, i am tempted to ask. why is tradition still alive, why does it still matter?
i have just returned from Poland, where i stayed for 10 days, enjoying the spring, slowly but decisively winning over the winter cold. ten days spent on enjoying my mum’s and grandma’s food, trips to the ice cream place (best ice cream i’ve ever had in my life), playing with kids, waiting for the storks to return to their nests (most did). it has been a blissful time.
during my stay, my babcia has invited me to join the women in making paper flowers, which were to be used for palms for Palm Sunday. i was surprised how many women turned up and how dedicated they all were. they spent five evenings creating flowers, and then palms to be taken to church on Palm Sunday. many of them were sold and the money collected was given to local charity.
Palm Sunday is the last Sunday before the Easter one. the holiday has been established to remember Jesus’s triumphal entry to Jerusalem, when (according to Bible) the crowds greeted him with palm branches. the celebration of Palm Sunday dates back to 4th century BC, but it hasn’t been celebrated in Poland until the Middle Ages.
in Poland, Palm Sunday is sometimes also called ‘Kwietną’ (‘Flowery’) or ‘Wierzbną’ (‘Willowy’) Niedzielą (Sunday). people create decorative palms, as a symbol of those palms with which people in Jerusalem greeted Jesus (there are no palm trees in Poland). Today, the custom is especially cultivated in Małopolska (Lesser Poland) and in Kurpie Region, where some parishes organise competitions for the biggest or most pretty palm. Some of these palms are true artworks, and some as tall as thirty metres!
According to traditions, palms should be made only with natural things, like branches of willow tree. Ready palms are traditionally decorated with flowers made from paper.
Willow tree has a very special place in Polish tradition: it is believed to be an especially vital tree. sometimes the snow is still on the fields and meadows, but the willow tree starts to develop its little leaves, tiny green buds cover willow’s branches, making it stand out in the still white, covered in snow fields. it might not be the most majestic or impressive tree, but it definitely is a powerful one. sometimes you’d find a cut branch of a willow tree, thinking it’s probably dead and nothing can bring it back to life. but, to everyone’s astonishment – it’ll start growing roots or leaves, once put in the water or soil. for centuries, the willow tree has been considered a plant which truly loves life. in the Christian tradition, a willow tree is a symbol of resurrection and immortality of the soul. and that is probably one of the reasons, why the palms for Palm Sunday are made with the willow tree branches.
in order to amplify Easter palm’s power, some evergreen plants are added, which were believed (in folk medicine) to hold medicinal properties. people would use myrtle (mirt), believed to be helpful with such indispositions as high blood pressure and bleedings; bilberry branches (borówka), known for its anti-inflammatory and diuretic features; or boxwood and yew tree branches.
the Easter palm’s invigorating powers were believed to be additionally multiplied by taking it to church, where it is blessed with holy water and taken around the church in a procession. it is still believed that such blessed Easter palm will protect the people, animals, houses and fields from any kids of bad happenings (especially fire). in order to ensure palm’s ‘protectorate’ over the house and people living in it, many customs were (and sometimes still are) in place.
Firstly, after coming home from church, one had to dip the palm in holy water (brought from church) and sprinkle the house with it. another custom requires swallowing one of the willow’s catkins, to ensure one’s well-being. sometimes, people would jokingly ‘hit’ themselves with the palm, to pass on its invigorating power. people also made sure that a bit of the Easter palm is placed in the stables and barns, to protect the animals and buildings from witches and fires.
a blessed on a Palm Sunday palm should be kept until the next Palm Sunday. sometimes, old palms are burned and the ash is used for a celebration of Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the Lent. one needs to be sure that his Easter palm is tall and properly made, which is supposed to give its owner a long and happy life. and if our palm is also pretty – the fortune will give us healthy and strong children.
there is a town in Małopolska, called Lipnica Murowana where the competition for a highest Easter palm had been held since 1958. some of the palms are as high as 30 metres! every year people from Lipnica Murowana and surrounding villages try their best to win in the race for the best and prettiest palm. they do look spectacular.
if you’re ever in Poland around Palm Sunday, make sure to visit a local church and see some of the palms (the biggest ones are usually kept in church or its surroundings). you can even get yourself a small Easter palm as a souvenir, as they are being sold almost everywhere during weeks preceding the Palm Sunday.
thinking about how moving out from Poland made me realise how unwilling i have been, when it comes to learning about traditions and customs, i can’t help but wonder: is my interest in Polish history, traditions, customs, traditional foods and the like, related to (what is fancily called) search for identity? there is a lot of ‘talk’ about identities, especially in the context of globalisation. to what extent are we influenced by place and people we grew up with? are we all doomed to feel nostalgic about a place of our childhood? some scholars coined a term hybrid identities to describe the feeling of not being ‘at home’ anywhere. but is it really possible to stop belonging somewhere and not start belonging somewhere else? to live one’s life in constant suspension, state of not-knowing. i am not very convinced that a person can simply be described as to have an ‘identity’, since people are not just a set of programmed values. we are rather constantly in flux, open to changes and influences, constantly becoming (to borrow Deleuzian terminology).
what do you think?