Europe · Poland

Customs for Palm Sunday in Poland

The Sunday before Easter is called Palm Sunday, because entering into Jerusalem, Jesus was greeted by the crowd with the palm leaves – the sign of a victory. In Poland, symbolic ‘palms’ are usually prepared of willow branches with catkins and adorned with evergreen leaves, dried flowers, and ribbons. They are tall and colorful. Nowadays they end up on the Easter table as a decoration, but traditionally they were believed to have magical properties. Palms were used for blessing the cattle or sticking into the fields to protect crops or hang above the front door for a good luck. Some parts of the palm were used to make a healing tea or smudging. Below, you are welcome to read about my experience of Polish customs for Palm Sunday in a very special place: The Open Air Museum of Folk Architecture in Sanok, in South Eastern Poland. 

The last patches of snow brightens a dark, rough landscape. The car goes slowly on a curvy road between the hills. The sun is warming up my cold face through the window. I close my eyes letting them enjoy the sun rays after a long, cloudy winter. It’s the right moment to feel the spring in the air according to Slavic beliefs. But we are not in a Slavic country anymore, now the celebration will have a cristian vibe, a very beautiful one. I head to Skansen – a museum with wooden buildings in Sanok. I cross a bridge on the river San, its marine blue water flows fast at this time of the year. The parking lot is already crowded, people seem to be excited, laughing and talking in small groups holding the big, colorful palms. Mine is only half a meter long which makes me feel ashamed for a while, but I realise that as a symbol it’s not the most important. 

We gather inside the reconstructed Galician market square, cowered by cobblewebs. It’s surrounded by wooden houses with a pouch which used to be used as the shops. As a custom for Palm Sunday in Poland, priest starts celebration with the blessing of the palms. He walks among the crowd spraying with holy water. Big drop falls directly on my forehead and a few on my modest palm. It’s an honour. The orchestra with lots of trumpets and big drums starts to play and the procession begins. Going along the muddy path, passing the pond and detached houses feels like we are suddenly back in time. It looked exactly the same one hundred years ago. Or maybe they didn’t have a microphone or cameras… Never mind. The lively religious song blasts out in the air, the pride and joy can be felt. 

Procession with Easter palms during Palm Sunday in Poland

After the mass with a long and passionate sermon, everyone heads back to a marketplace to warm up with hot, traditional sour soup and other dishes. But I take a chance to escape the crowd for a while and go for a silent walk around the museum. I climb up to a chapel on the hill with a river view, I wonder between the mill and the school. All wooden.

Inside the traditional wooden house in South Eastern Poland

Most of the buildings are original,  dating back between the 17th and 20th century. Many were abandoned when some ethnic groups were deported after the second world war. Thankfully they weren’t burnt like others, but moved here to preserve the past. It’s hard to believe that this is how many of the villages looked like in Poland only about 70 years ago. Even my parents lived like this in a simple cottage and now it’s only the past, preserved in a protected area. Life goes fast, civilization goes fast, only my heart doesn’t keep up. 

The Polish Galician market square in Sanok’s museum

A handfull of practical information

How to get to Sanok

By bus: Sanok is 70 km from Rzeszów where regular buses are run by two companies: Marcel Bus and Neobus. Check their website, as the connection may be limited on Sunday. Buy a ticket online to make sure you get the seat.

By car: the full name of the museum in Polish is: Muzeum Budownictwa Ludowego i Park Etnograficzny w Sanoku and the GPS is 49.573920 22.207393

Craftman making the Easter baskets, which you can buy in Sanok’s skansen

Tips:

  • Take boots, it may be very muddy
  • During the celebration behave with respect, not interfering with the mass
  • Check the opening times and ticket prices at the official website of the museum.
  • Try regional dishes, especially sauerkraut pancakes 
  • Have a walk around the marketplace in Sanok and visit the museum of icons in the castle
  • The most popular place to go on Palm Sunday in Poland is Lipnica Murowana near Cracow, where the contest for the highest palm has being held for years. Some palms are nearly 40 m high! 
The picturesque area near Sanok

What else to see near Sanok:

Międzybrodzie – pyramid grave behind the church, also a nice view point over the river slope

Ulucz – one of the most beautiful wooden, orthodox churches in Poland

Sobień – climb the castle ruins with spectacular view over the river

For longer trip take the winding road to a historical city Przemyśl

Have you ever participated in Polish Easter customs? I would love to hear your experience! Please share on the comments below.

Thank you for visiting my website,
Dora

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