On May 3, the Catholic Church in Poland celebrates the liturgical feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland. She has held the title since the time of King Jan (John) Casimir II Waza (reigned 1648 – 1668) during one of Poland’s darkest hours.
It was the time of the “Deluge” in Polish history (in Polish: potop szwedzki), when Swedish armies invaded the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the country was almost totally conquered by the foreign invaders. The king was in exile. It was thought that all was lost but one of the places that still resisted the Swedes was the holy monastery at Jasna Góra- the most sacred place in Poland containing the icon of the Black Madonna, known as Our Lady of Częstochowa.
The news that all was not lost galvanized the country into greater resistance against the Swedes. A new army was formed in support of the exiled king. John II Casimir managed to reach Lwów - one of only two major cities of the Commonwealth not seized by any of Poland's enemies (Gdansk was the other) and marshalled his forces.
On 1 April 1656, during a Mass in the Latin Cathedral (also known as Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in Lwów (today Lviv, western Ukraine), John II Casimir entrusted the Commonwealth to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he announced as The Queen of the Polish Crown and of his countries. In a painting depicted by Jan Matejko in 1893, the royal vow is depicted by a scarlet banner with a white eagle. Dressed in a black, the king kneels before an altar accompanied by his queen Maria Ludwika. Witnessing the event was Stefan Czarniecki, the master of warfare, holding a saber, kneeling at the foot of the stairs.
An excerpt from his oath - known as The Lwów Oath (Polish: Śluby Lwowskie):
I choose you today as my Patroness and Queen.
Great Mother of God, Most Holy Virgin. I, Jan Kazimierz, for the love of Your Son, King of kings and my Lord and Your merciful King, having fallen at Your Most Holy feet, I choose You today as my Patroness and Queen of my countries. I place both myself and my Kingdom of Poland, the Duchy of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Prussia, Mazovia, Samogitia, Livonia, Smolensk, Czernichów and the army of both nations and all my peoples, to your special protection and defense, I humbly offer my sorrowful Kingdom against the enemies of the Roman Church.
Because of your extraordinary favors I am compelled, together with my people, to a new and passionate desire to dedicate ourselves to Your service, I vow, therefore, that I, as well as senators and my people… will worship you in all the lands of my Kingdom and I will spread my devotion to You….
The Commonwealth forces finally drove back the Swedes in 1657 and the Russians in 1661.
In later years, when King Jan Sobieski (reigned 1674-1696) began his fight against the Turks at Vienna in 1693, he also entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and saved Europe from Muslim domination. Through national triumphs and tragedies, amidst the demands of enemies and hostile governments, the Blessed Virgin Mary has held the people of Poland steadfast in their common goal as a country and they have emerged whole. "To your protection we flee o Holy mother of God" (Pod twoja obrona uciekamy, święta Boża Rodziecielko) has been the prayer of Poles for centuries and continues unwavering to this very day.
Photos: Wikipedia and Wikiwand.
Painting by Jan Matejko can be seen at the National Museum in Wrocław.
April 14, 1945 marks the liberation of my mother and father from forced labor during World War II by British troops. This fact is true, discovered in German documents. Both my parents had been taken from Poland and forced to work against their will in an armaments factory called Rheinmetall-Borsig in Unterluss (Unterlüß), Germany. One of the facts that has eluded my research is determining which specific British troops actually liberated my parents. Most documented sources I’ve come across simply say “liberated by British troops.” But I think it’s important to know such a detail. I want to know who to give credit, thanks and respect to, if only in my own heart and mind, for such a giving act, for their service. So, I keep plugging various search terms into the internet hoping to find something…and recently I did.
In the book titled Monty’s Northern Legions: 50th Northumbrian and 15th Scottish Divisions at War 1939-1945 author Patrick Delaforce writes that after capturing the undefended city of Celle, the 15th Scottish Infantry Division, British 2nd Army, “continued on the 13th (of April) north-east to Eschede and Uelzen with Highland Light Infantry leading.” I recognized the names of these cities and towns as they are all in the same region where my parents were forced laborers. (See attached map.) In order to get to Uelzen from Eschede (assuming they stayed on the main roads) they had to have passed through Unterluss (Unterlüß). And this one and only sentence gives me hope that I am on the right track: “Lt. Green became Mayor and Military commander of Unterluss for one day.” Eureka!! They did enter the city, which is really more of a small town, as I’ve been there as part of my research. It must have been these troops that liberated my mother and father. The date of the 14th of April would fit. Do I know this for sure? No. Who is Lieutanant Green? And what did he do in that role? That I also don’t know but if the Highland Light Infantry was leading the advance, I’ll begin my research there. One line in someone’s book can give an important lead and at the same time open up more questions but for today, I celebrate what I have discovered and try to build on that.
Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany1939-1945(Hippocrene Books) explores the history of forced labor during the occupation of Poland during World War II and focuses on the experiences of Polish women as forced laborers.
A Polish country cottage garden was a mix of decorative and useful herbs, vegetables, flowers and shrubs such as roses, raspberry, gooseberry, or currant bushes. It served as a flower garden and as an herb and kitchen garden, useful in a way that brought edible food, as one Polish garden writer stated, " directly into the pot." There was no specific garden plan. Flowers and herbs were usually grown in clumps near the fence or in beds beneath the windows of the house according to the preferences of the housewife. Vegetables were occasionally mixed in. The walkways were made of tamped soil and wide enough for a person to walk through. If a bit of decoration was wanted, large rocks were gathered, painted white and fashioned in a circle. Inside, a special flower or herb was planted.
The housewife grew flowers to brighten the outside of the house, to adorn the altars at church on Sundays and holy days, and to decorate the roadside shrines that were located within the village boundaries. The unmarried girls of the house tended lilies, rosemary and rue for bridal wreathes as well as lavender to place between the linens in her marriage chest. For cooking and to spice the daily fare, some culinary herbs were planted. There was marjoram for sausage, dill for pickling cucumbers, and parsley, sage and fennel for enhancing soups and stews. Many Polish housewives made their own herb vinegars from water and sliced apples that were allowed to ferment for a few months. The mixture was strained, crushed herbs added, sealed in bottles and stored in a cool pantry or larder. Herb butters were also made and packed down into crocks to use in the middle of winter or to give as a Christmas gift. (Photo :Foxglove)
Interspersed among the flowers were vegetables such as cucumbers, radishes, water cress, horseradish and lettuce. Sometimes there were beets, carrots, garlic or onions depending on the needs and tastes of the owner. It was Queen Bona Sforza who introduced various green vegetables to Poland including beans, cabbage, cauliflower, onion, celery, parsnip, cumin, coriander, caraway, hemp, asparagus, artichoke, tomato and nasturtium. Spinach also traveled to Poland from Italy, brought by monks who followed Bona in her marriage to Zygmunt. From nearby Germany came horseradish and pumpkin, which also made its appearance in Polish cottage gardens.
Excerpted from: Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine. Revised edition. Hippocrene Books.2020
During Holy Week, on Tuesday April 14, 1394, the Keeper of the Accounts for Queen Jadwiga of Poland (reigned 1384-1399) and her husband, King Władysław Jagiełło (reigned 1386–1434) documented the purchases made for the king and queen’s table for the upcoming Easter holiday:
“Two niecki (long,deep wooden bowls) for holding cheese; 160 cheeses; two graters and payment for bringing it from the market square; 160 cheeses for baked goods (he added in Latin ad tortas – that is, for making tortes); one sack of white flour for the torte’s; 30 miarek (meaning measures, a system based on volume but not specified in the accounts) of fine wheat flour taken on credit from Wacław, called Stokłosa, to be paid on the Green Holidays (Pentecost). The butcher slaughtered 12 pigs and also prepared słonina (rendered fat) called loszijna (from the word łosia, meaning elk) for the king.” The king was an avid hunter. (Photo left: Image of Queen Jadwiga as imagined by artist Jan Matejko)
It seems even kings and queens ran out of money and had to buy on credit! And what’s this about the queen’s kitchen needing the delivery of two graters? Some poor flunky had to trudge up Wawel Hill to the castle kitchen from one of the wooden market stalls in the square…the same square we know today as Rynek Glowny, the Main Square, the largest in Europe…only then it was filled with wooden stalls and merchants from all over Europe and Asia selling their wares – silk, gold, silver, spices and herbs, shoes, pottery and…graters. I can just imagine some cook’s helper waiting for the delivery… maybe needing to grate the horseradish to accompany the pork?
Engraving of Wawel from the north from 1581
And if 160 cheeses seem excessive, it must be remembered that between the queen’s and king’s retinues, family members, clergy, guests, knights, there were often hundreds of individuals who usually sat down to table. It’s clear though that the kitchen was preparing to break the long Lenten fast which was taken very seriously by the King and Queen. Two hundred days were given over to fasting – the period of Advent, the eve before all major holy days, various penitential days, every Friday and of, course, the long period of Lent. Fasting meant one meal a day, consisting of some kind of vegetable, without dairy products or animal fats. Everyone was ready to end Lent.
Later that week, on Good Friday, the keeper of the accounts notes the costs for the queen and her retinue for placki called płaskury (a baked good made from płaskurka, i.e., emmer wheat, sometimes called farro wheat, an ancient grain), bułki (rolls) and obwarzanki(rings of baked yeast dough that can still be bought in the main square in Kraków today).
“On Holy Saturday,” he writes, “on the eve of the Great Night, there was white bread and obwarzanki for the queen and her court” and “payment had to be made for delivery of it from the market square; half an ounce of saffron for the placki and 1200 eggs.” It is a known fact that Queen Jadwiga really liked her obwarzanki. Its purchase from the square for the queen is mentioned frequently throughout the years of the accounts. (Photo: saffron)
“On Easter Sunday, the 19th of April,” the accountant writes,” for white bread, 3 grosze (unit of small money), which was bought yesterday: and today 1 achtel (the equivalent of half a barrel which corresponded to approximately 130-141 liters) of previously brewed mead.” King Jagiełło abstained from alcohol, as did his father before him, which may explain the low amount for such a big crowd. Perhaps drinking wasn’t encouraged.
Historians have not found any source that describes how Easter Sunday was spent at the court of Jadwiga and Jagiełło or what specific dishes were served but we get a general idea from the purchases. "Tort" cakes, mainly cheesecake, were baked with the numerous cheeses using the fine wheat flour and surely with a portion of the 1200 eggs, as were the placek’s(shape unknown), enhanced with what was at the time, very expensive saffron. There was pork served in some manner(maybe whole with an apple in its mouth?) and all washed down with mead.
How fortunate the accountant did not throw away his records when they ceased to be needed and left it to future generations to pour over. I realized that the Easter table of today among Polish Americans is not so different, in essence, from that of the Middle Ages. We still bake something special, with or without saffron. If we can’t find our grater, or maybe it’s broken, we have to get a new one. We eat eggs and some version of pork. We enjoy a honeyed Polish vodka or some other libation of choice.
Tradition continues over the centuries. Wesołego Alleluja! Happy Easter!
During World War II, in clear violation of international law, the Nazi’s deported millions of Polish men, women and children from occupied Poland against their will and put them to work in Germany to keep their war economy at full strength. On March 8, 1940, General Field Marshall Herman Göring released a series of laws, now known as the infamous March decrees, the polenerlasse, that led the Polish people working in Germany to be treated as an inferior race deprived of all rights and civil liberties and become subjects of physical and mental abuse and outright murder.
The Polish workers were not allowed to eat with their employers at the same table, forbidden to attend mass at the same time as the Germans and limited to just one segregated mass a month. Among many other rules, the decrees made it impossible for Poles to marry, visit barber shops, and own bicycles or even ride a bike without express written permission of their employer. They had to adhere to strict daytime curfews and were forbidden to leave their living quarters in the evening. Failure to comply with any of the regulations met with beatings, fines and sitting in jail as well as being threatened to be sentenced to a concentration camp.
The most degrading provision of the March Decrees forced every Polish worker in Germany to wear a badge consisting of a large purple P on a yellow background that had to be firmly attached to each item of clothing. Failure to comply met with beatings, fines and the threat of being sent to a concentration camp. The letter P set the Poles apart, causing them to be isolated, ostracized and terrorized. Anyone who did not wear the letter P - five of which every Polish worker had to purchase - was subject to punishment by beatings, a fine of 150 Reichsmarks or imprisonment for up to 6 weeks.
This was the first public identification of people in the Third Reich. The Jewish star was introduced in September 1941.
The P badges were produced by Geitel and Co. of Berlin, Germany’s largest maker of flags, pennants, and insignias. Besides the P badge, the company later also produced the yellow Jewish star and the OST badge for the slave laborers of the Soviet Union.
Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume 8 Document R-143
Łuczak, Praca Przymusowa Polaków w Trzeciej Rzeszy
For further reading about the fate of Polish women as forced laborers:
Teodor Axentowicz (1859-1938) was a renowned Polish-Armenian painter born in Braşov, Hungary (now Romania). His father’s family had Armenian roots and owned a small property in Ceniów (now Tseniv, Ukraine).(Author note: The Armenians had found sanctuary in Poland in the 14th century).
Axentowicz grew up in Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine) and after finishing high school he spent four years (1878-1882) studying art at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts and then went on to Paris to the studio of Carlos Duran.
In 1893 Axentowicz went to Kołomyja and Jamno in eastern Ukraine, paying his first visit to the lands of the Hucul (spelling in Polish language, Hutsul in Ukrainian), an ethnographic group of Carpathian highlanders of mixed Ruthenian and Wallachian origin. The region is located in the western part of the Ukraine, in the area of the Eastern Carpathians, at the forks of Prut, Cheremosh and Tisza rivers.
Map of ethnic Carpathian highlanders. Source: Pinterest.
Today the region is located almost entirely in the Ukraine, and to a small extent overlaps with the territory of Romania. These areas were part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for centuries. After the first partition of Poland in 1772, they became part of the Austrian (later Austro-Hungarian) monarchy. In the years 1918–1939 they were once again part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Axentowicz, recognized as an illustrator, graphic artist and a superb portraitist by this time in his career, developed a very keen interest in the life, rituals, and traditions of the distinctive Hucul people. He began garnering attention for his paintings of the Hucul’s while still in Paris. In 1895, he settled in Kraków. Based on his sketches from the region, Axentowicz, continued to return to the subject of the Hucul’s throughout his career. The folk costumes and religious rituals became a recurring theme in Axentowicz’s work, among them, appropriate today, the feast of Candlemas, also known as the feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated on February 2.
Teodor Axentowicz. Gromnicza. (Blessed Thunder candle). Oil on canvas. c.1900 Museum of Archdiocese of Katowice
In the Polish folk tradition, the feast of Candlemas was also called Matka Boska Gromniczną, or Gromniczną, both referrring to Mother of God Thunder Candle. The name derives from the candle that was brought to church on this day, solemnly lit and kept for a lifetime as a means of protection. It was believed that this candle protected against storms and thunder, hence the name "gromnica," from the word “grom” meaning thunder. A storm with lightning and thunder was a great threat to thatched huts without lightning rods. One strike of lightning could destroy the achievements of a lifetime so it was with a feeling of helplessness that a family watched the luminous zigzags of lightning against a dark sky. In that helplessness, a candle, blessed on a feast devoted to the Blessed Mother, was reached for and put it lit at the window in the hope of safety and protection. It is a custom that can be dated back to the 9th century.
Teodor Axentowicz. Na Gromnicą . Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie.
Teodor Axentowicz Dziewczyna z Gromnicą. (Girl with Thunder Candle). Date unknown. Muzeum Sztuki w Łodzi
Teodor Axentowicz. Na Gromniczną. On Candlemas. Date unkown.
In the paintings, we see children and adults carrying candles to be blessed through a wintery landscape. Axentowicz seems to have more young girls carrying the candles than other individuals. According to custom anyone can carry the candle to the church for blessing, regardless of gender and age, but in practice it was mostly done by girls and women.
Teodor Axentowicz. Na Gromniczną. Powrót z cerkwi na Huculszczyźnie.( On Candlemas. Return from the Orthodox church in Hucul region). C.1910
The Hucul region lay within Poland’s borders from the time of Kazimierz the Great( reigned 1333 to 1370) to World War II except for the time of the Partitions. The people were typically of the Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faith, both of which would celebrate Candlemas but at different times on the calendar.
These paintings are only a few among many of the painting completed by Axentowicz of the custom of bringing a candle to be blessed on the feasts of Candlemas. It is said that it was he who “discovered” and subsequently, uncovered, the Hucul’s to the world through his paintings.
With the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary on February 2nd, also known as Candlemas, the Christmas period in Poland was officially over. Instead of young boys caroling along country roads, the snowy roads began to fill with the sound of jangling of bells from horse-drawn sleighs taking the rich and famous to house parties, fancy dress balls and winter weddings.
Kulig. Juliusz Kossak c.1887
These kuligs, the famous sleigh rides made famous by the Polish aristocracy, rose in popularity in the 16th century and were a large part of Zapusty, or carnival time, that period of overindulgence and fun before the strict fast of Lent. Looking back to a few centuries before the 1600’s, however, this carnival time began soon after the Feast of Three Kings and was much shorter in length.
Completely forgotten now among the older customs and traditions of Poland was a period called przedpoście, or pre-fast, and it was essentially a period of preparing for Lent with another period of fasting and abstinence. This prequel to the forty days of Lent took shape in the times of Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604 AD) when the church instituted a three-week period of additional fasting as a way of reminding the faithful of the very serious, and quickly approaching period of Lent, and that they should prepare through increased prayer, fasting, and acts of penance. The last day of feasting and revelry was called Niedziela Zapustna, or Niedziela Starozapustna, meaning the last Sunday of carnival time. In church liturgy it is known as Septuagesima Sunday, the third Sunday before the beginning of Lent. If we look at the calendar that would be today, January 31.
We know this pre-Lenten period was taken very seriously during the reign of Boleslaw the Brave (992-1025) so much so that if someone was caught eating meat on a fast day, their teeth were in danger of being knocked out as punishment! This period of fasting was still in effect in the 14th century at the court of Queen Jadwiga Jagiełło (reigned 1384-1399) and King Jagiełło through the extant records of the Keeper of the Treasury from the years 1388-1417.
In the year 1394, he dates and documents the following events:
On February 2, the day of the Purification, for the queen’s supper: 30 partridges, 4 geese and 3 rabbits.
February 3, Małdrzyk, official servant of the Queen, was sent to Moravia with letters and was given small money for expenses……
March 2, Niedziela Zapustna, the last Sunday of carnival, the queen and king ate with Spytek of Melstzyna, the administrator of the city of Kraków, along with two Mazowian princes and a variety of other princes: 20 pigs, 40 cheeses for placki and pirogów (Author note: that is the spelling used in the accounts and it should also be noted that close to 200 members of the court and visiting guests often sat down to eat for dinner)
March 3, Fresh fish for the queen, as she did not eat meat, and 30 herrings.
A week later, the keeper of the treasury mentions “Week 2 of the fast.” And subsequently on March 15, “Week 3 of the fast.”
Herring was a fish affordable for king and peasant alike and one of the main staples of Lent.
The origin of the pre-fast is not exactly known but assumed to have come from the need to precisely calculate the forty days of Lent by excluding the Sundays and Saturdays which at the time were free from fasting. As a result, the beginning of Lent shifted forward on the calendar. With reforms in the church liturgical calendar in later centuries, the pre-fast period was removed and a greater emphasis placed on Lent itself. With that change, the aristocracy of the 16th century could enjoy their kulig’s a bit longer through the winter months.
Source: Życie domowe Jadwigi i Jagiełły z regestrów skarbowych z lat 1388-1417(Home life of Jadwiga and Jagiełło from the treasurer’s registers from 1388-1420). Aleksander Przeździecki.
Wednesday, January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day designated by the United Nations General Assembly to mark the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to honor those that died there and to recognize others who were victims of Nazism.
Today let us remember the murder of Poland’s citizenry in what historians call the Palmiry Massacre.
Seventy-eight years ago, almost to this very day, on January 23, 1943, Hans Frank, Governor of the General Government of occupied Poland wrote in his diary:
“I would like to stress one thing: we must not be squeamish when we learn that a total of 17,000 people [in the Government General] have been shot. These persons who were shot were nothing more than war victims.” (1)
When Hans Frank became the General Governor, the pre-planned extermination of the Polish nation was quickly undertaken. Warsaw, as the capital of Poland, filled with patriots and resistance groups, was targeted with a series of executions that took place on December 7 and 8, 1939 in the Kampinos forest north of Warsaw near a small village called Palmiry. The Germans shot 70 people the one day and 80 people the next. A few days later, on December 14, another 46 people were murdered. Throughout 1940, executions in Palmiry continued.
The largest number of executions at one time at Palmiry occurred in June as part of what the German’s called the Extraordinary Pacification Action AB (Außerordentliche Befriedungsaktion). Mass arrests were made throughout all of Poland among Poland’s intellectuals, social activists and politicians – anyone that could possibly become the nucleus of rallying the people together in opposition to the occupation of Poland. In Warsaw the arrested victims were taken mainly to Pawiak prison on Dzielna Street as well as Mokotów prison on Rakowiecka St. (Photo above is a memorium outside Pawiak prison. Photo by Edward Knab) It was from these prisons that the inmates were later taken outside of Warsaw to the Kampinos forest and shot.
Before their execution, death pits 2.5-3 meters deep and 30 meters long were carefully prepared by members of the Hitlerjugend, a German youth group, in a clearing in the forest. Transports from the prisons took place in the murky hours of dawn. The inmates were allowed to take their personal belongings previously deposited in the prison property room, as well as suitcases, backpacks and food packages, creating the illusion of being transported to a concentration camp. The arrival of trucks at the edge of forest place revealed the true intention of the executioners.
The prisoner’s hands were bound, their eyes covered and then led in groups to the clearing, where they were placed at edge of the prepared pit and shot. On the days of June 20 and 21, 1940, 358 innocent Polish citizens, including 64 women, were shot.
The second-largest execution in terms of the number of victims was carried out on 17 September 1940 and claimed the lives of 200 human beings. Additional murders went on in Palmiry through 1941, not just of people of Warsaw but from surrounding towns and villages as well. A total of 21 different groups of individuals were murdered at this location. The bodies were covered with earth and the pits concealed by planting shrubs and trees over them.
Polish foresters who ignored the ban on entering the forest became the most important witnesses to the crime. Their system of marking the death pits made it possible to find many of the graves after the war. On November 25, 1945, headed by the Polish Red Cross, exhumations of the burial sites was begun and completed by June 10, 1946. They exhumed 1,720 bodies of which only about 400 were identified. Buried there as well were bodies of victims of executions in other regions of Poland in subsequent years of the war to bring the number to 2115. (2) In 1948, the site became a memorial cemetery. In the 1970s, a museum was opened nearby to disseminate information concerning the atrocities perpetrated in Palmiry. In 2011, the museum was moved to a new building and adopted the name “Palmiry Museum and Memorial Site.”
Today it serves to honor the loss of innocent lives. It serves as a stark reminder of the crimes committed by Nazi Germany against the Polish nation during the Second World War, what Hans Frank considered the premeditated murder of the people at Palmiry and the 15,000 other Polish lives in the General Government as "nothing but war victims."
On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us remember these events and honor their memory. Cześć ich pamięci.
(1) Partial Translation of Document 2233-AA-PS Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume IV: FRANK DIARY, Official Meeting. Warsaw, 25 January 1943. Meetings of Departmental Chiefs.
(2) Insytut Pamięci Narodowe. https://przystanekhistoria.pl/pa2/teksty/62949,Tylko-sosny-byly-swiadkami-Egzekucje-w-Palmirach.html
Credit for photos 2,3,4 Instytut Pamieci Narodowe. Institute of National Remembrnce.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Lord gave us the Feast of Epiphany.
The word Epiphany takes its name from the Greek epiphania, meaning, revelation or to reveal. The church calendar reminds us it is the day on which the Christ Child was made manifest to the world as the Son of God. The day is also called the Feast of Three Kings because it was to the Three Kings that the Christ Child was first revealed and as such, revealed to the whole world.
Carolers in front of Narodzenia Najswietszej Maryi Panny (Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church) in Łapczycy (southern Poland)1925
The Feast closes the official twelve days of Christmas in Poland but the day brought out a new wave of carolers that took to the roads of Poland to sing their songs of the wonders associated with the birth of Christ. In remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem that hung over the manger the night of the birth of Christ, the star that led the Wise Men to the manger, young Polish boys dressed up as the Three Kings and went caroling from house to house. If it was impossible to imitate the rich garb of the kings, the boys simply wore their usual clothes with homemade paper crowns on their heads to denote them as the Three Kings. One of the boys smudged his face with ashes to signify him as the dark skinned king, Balthazar, and also carried a homemade colored box to signify carrying the gift of myrrh.
The caroling group on the Feast of Three Kings, always traveled with a large homemade star, the Gwiazda Betlejemska, the Star of Bethlehem, perched on top of a long pole. It was made from thick glazed paper or straw attached to a frame and was lit from within by a candle at the center or, in later years, by a light bulb powered by a battery. Sometimes someone dressed as an angel tagged along or yet another boy accompanied them playing the concertina, but most of the time the boys sang together a capella. And, as one elderly gentleman recounted to Polish folklorists about his caroling days, "one of the kings also carried a stick to ward off the dogs that roamed the countryside.” (Photo to left: Star carried by carolers 1986. Museum Etnograficzne w Rzeszowie)
The carolers did not enter inside the house as often happened with other carolers but, instead, stood outside a window. The homemade star, glowing in the night and voices raised in song about the Three Kings, such as Mędrcy świata (Wise Men of the World) drew the inhabitants to the window.
Mędrcy świata, monarchowie,
gdzie śpiesznie dążycie?
Powiedzcież nam Trzej Królowie,
chcecie widzieć Dziecię?
Wise men of the world, monarchs,
where are you hurrying?
Tell us, Three Kings,
do you want to see the Child?
When they had finished their repertoire of songs, the homeowner would step out of the cottage and asked the carolers: Where are you from, oh kings? The carolers always replied: Why, we are from the east and looking for the Child.”
The carolers were always rewarded for their entertainment with a treat of some kind; a piece of sweet bread, small money and oftentimes, something hot to drink. Then the carolers moved on to the next house because everyone in the village had to be visited or it would cause offense. Everyone felt blessed when the carolers visited their home.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.