Holy Week in Poland, Part 1: Warsaw

Last year I found myself traveling through one of the world’s most Catholic countries during Holy Week. Having been raised Catholic myself, I was particularly curious to witness how Easter festivities were observed in Poland. Experiencing familiar traditions in unfamiliar places can be eye-opening, rewarding, confusing, entertaining, and usually educational.

My week in Poland was a mix of all these elements. The first thing I noticed on my way to Palm Sunday services in Warsaw were the pussy-willow and dried flower arrangements tied together with colorful ribbons and feathers that everyone was carrying. Instead of real palm, worshipers carry dried flower sticks decorated with juniper, boxwood and currant. They are festive arrangements, a noticeable difference from the more somber palm I’m familiar with. But it’s too expensive to get palm in Poland, so the Catholic Poles developed their own unique traditions. Palm Sunday is in fact referred to as Willow Sunday or Branch Sunday in Poland.

As far as the actual service — well, I speak not a lick of Polish, but was still able to follow along fairly well with the flow of a customary Catholic mass. Except I swear the homily was given after communion. And there was A LOT more kneeling. (But more on that tomorrow when we get to Krakow.)

After the service I headed to spacious and serene Lazienkowski Park, where tons of families milled about, pushing babies in strollers and taunting the wild peacocks to spread their wings. A great thing to do is grab a park bench near the Palace on the Water and settle in for a fantastic people watching session. The bizarre squirrels running around the park are entertaining too — each was the color of a fox, and had funny pointy ears. Have you ever seen these critters?

Pussy-willow, peacocks and a wonderful city park — a traveler’s Palm Sunday in Poland. Oh, and drinking pure Wedel chocolate too. That’s not a religious tradition or anything, but it should be.