Topienie Marzanny - powitanie wiosny
The Drowning of Marzanna - Spring Welcome Festival
Ogrodowska Barbara, Polish Rituals of the Annual Cycle, Warsaw, State Ethnographic Museum, 2001;
Knab-Hodorowicz, Sophie, Polish Customs, Traditions, and Folklore, New York , Hippocrene Books, 1993.
In every culture, where the winter is long, dark and cold, people have made a great effort to ensure that spring arrives on time; they search for signs in nature to confirm that the long awaited spring is just around the corner. In Poland , one of these signs is the return of the storks from warm climates. These birds are a sign that nature is awakening to life after a long winter. In the past, along with the arrival of the storks, people would start to prepare for what is called “the drowning of Marzanna” (topienie Marzanny).
Marzanna was a straw figure representing death, winter, disease and, in general, all evil. The figure was braided from straw into the shape of a human, and dressed in a traditional local women’s clothing. Then Marzanna was thrown into a river or pond. Meant to bring about the change of the seasons, from winter to spring, this custom was known all over Europe . Its roots undoubtedly date back to the ancient, pre-Christian sacrificial rites of pagans. As a pagan ritual, the Polish Poznań bishops’ synod of 1420 attempted to condemn the drowning of Marzanna and fought to end this custom. The battle was clearly lost and till this day the drowning of Marzanna is part of Polish culture. Though the traditional elements of the ritual remain unchanged the participants differ from those of the medieval period. Since the 19 th century, topienie Marzanny is primarily a ritual game played by children and teenagers.
What did the ritual drowning of Marzanna look like? The figure of Marzanna was made from straw and dressed in local women’s clothing. Then, it was carried in procession around the whole village, from door to door, so that it would take away the evil spirits. Next, Marzanna was carried to the river bank, burned, and, while still in flames, thrown into a local river or pond. Finally, everyone would run home as fast as possible. It was believed that anyone who fell while running home would die that same year.
Today, topienie Marzanny has been made popular by media and television. Celebrated on March 21 st, the first day of spring, it has taken on the form of a spring festival celebrated all over Poland primarily by school children. In the late 1970’s high school students started skipping school on that day. Though truancy was strictly forbidden, year after year on March 2 st, more and more high school students would roam the streets of big cities. Finally, this became a real problem for the Department of Education.
In the late 1990’s, before the problem spun out of control, officials in the Department of Education gave up. They officially named the first day of spring Truant’s Day (Dzień Wagarowicza). There are no regular classes on March 21 st. Instead, special school activities are organized. Students wear masks, funny costumes, and generally take liberty to do
what they want. In the afternoon, there are also organized festivals for