If the street above looks a little more colorful than the average road, it’s because the carpet has been rolled out for Semana Santa, or holy week leading up to Easter. The “carpets” are made from colored sawdust and flowers and illustrate the Stations of the Cross. There are many reasons to visit Copan in the western region of Honduras, but the procession that will march down this street on Good Friday morning (April 6 in 2012, if you want to start planning) is a big draw; arrive early to admire the “carpets”. Thanks to Flickr user
Adalberto H Vega for capturing them before they got trampled!
The respect and love felt for “hometown hero” Pope John Paul II is evident throughout Krakow. The 1st anniversary of his death fell during the Easter season in 2006, inspiring an additional layer of reverence and special tributes throughout the city. Despite threatening clouds and intermittent rain, an outdoor photo montage of his life was displayed along the planty that circles Old Town. Inside St. Francis Basilica church (where he served as archbishop before becoming Pope) there were additional memorials in his honor and a chance to kneel in the pew where he used to pray. (The church is worth a visit to see Stanislaw Wyspianski’s famous stained-glass windows.)
A friend and I fell under the trance of the somber mood that seemed to hang over the city. In between rain showers, we climbed up Wawel Hill, walked along the banks of the Vistula and strolled through Cloth Hall examining the plethora of chess sets and amber offerings; but the lousy weather kept us seeking cover most of the week, which turned into a tour of Krakow churches. We attended services a few times, continually stunned at the huge turnouts, the long kneeling sessions and the great lengths to which some worshipers would go to make sure they had a seat — on several occasions we stood near folks sitting on their own small folding chairs!
A popular Holy Saturday tradition in Poland is to bless the Easter baskets, filled with the food that will be eaten on Sunday morning. The baskets themselves are often used as decoration for a centerpiece during brunch. As my friend and I explored damp and dreary Krakow in the days leading up to Easter, we decided that we would prep a basket to be blessed as well. We bought one and filled it with bread, flowers and a traditional poppy seed cake called makowiec. Other items usually included are salt, hard-boiled eggs, sausage and cheese, but we were staying in a hostel with limited space in the communal fridge. Our improvised creation worked fine for Easter brunch, and later that day we treated ourselves to yummy Polish lody (ice cream) for dessert.
As we headed out to catch a train early Monday morning, we were on high alert — another tradition in Poland is for young boys to to wake girls on Easter Monday morning by pouring a bucket of water on their head. Thankfully the only water to dampen our morning was the rain that continued to fall from above. We were pleased that we had been able to participate in several of Poland’s Easter traditions, but were quite happy to escape without being subjected to Wet Monday mischief.
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.