The Feast of Three Kings (January 6) was at one time called Małe Boze Narodzenia, i.e., Little Christmas, in Poland because gifts were often given to children on this day in honor of the Three Kings who brought the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Infant Jesus. The Feast Day was a very popular motif in Polish paintings, sculpture, stained glass and folk art.
This first image is by Polish artist Teodor Baltazar Stachowicz(1800-1873) titled Pokłon Trzech Króli - Adoration of the Magi (circa 1820's). The artist himself was born on the feast day.
This bas-relief shown below originally comes from the well known St. Mary's Church(Kosciół Mariacki) in Kraków and is dated to the years 1460-1470. It comes from the workshop of Jakub of Sącz, also known as the Master of the Holy Trinity Triptych. After being located in various churches in Kraków it finally found a permanent home at the Archdiocesan Museum in the name of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła also in Kraków.
Artist Józef Mehoffer(1869-1946) practiced a variety of arts, but excelled in stained glass windows that can be found in structures throughout Kraków. He found international acclaim for designing the 13 stained glass windows of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Fribourg, Switzerland. The work took 40 years to complete and is now felt to be the most important collection of religious Art Nouveau in stained-glass windows. Among the 13 windows is the Homage of the Thee Kings.
Decorative paper cutting in Poland is called wycinanki, meaning "cutting out" and was widespread as a peasant craft in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The paper cuttings were often used to adorn the interior walls and ceiling beams of peasant cottages. The various types of cutouts and the subject matter can range from birds and animals to country and religious scenes. Here is a beautiful example of a tribute to the Three Kings from the Kurpie region of Poland.
A Polish proverb for the Feast of Three Kings:
" W święto Trzech Króli człek się w kożuch tuli"
On the feast of Three Kings man cuddles in his sheepskin coat.
The sharing of the oplatek on Christmas Eve is the most cherished of all Polish Christmas customs. On the eve of Christ's birth, gathered together at the table where they are about to share the evening meal, the people of Poland and their descendants scattered all over the world, first offer each other a thin piece of unleavened bread called opłatek and give each other the gift of spoken words. The custom predates Christmas trees and the presents found beneath it by centuries. Instead, bread is shared and the words said are a gift in verbal form.
And because the words said to one another at the time of sharing the oplatek are a gift, just as we would spend time searching the store for that perfect thing, so should we try to say the best possible words for that person: words of encouragement or praise about their current life or about their future goals or intentions; words of love and caring; words of reconciliation and forgiveness; words that the person can tuck in their hearts and keep there for a long time afterward. All it requires to bestow this gift is to give some careful thought to what we say.
At some social gatherings, it's happened that we find ourselves exchanging the opłatek with someone we don't know very well or not at all, but it is still an opportunity to gift another person with our words.
In the spirit of sharing opłatek I'd like to offer my word gift: May you prosper in all ways: spiritually, intellectually, creatively, materially; may whatever quest you are engaged in meet with success: may you and yours remain or return to good health:
Niech czas Bożego Narodzenia upłynie w atmosfersze radośći i miłosci, a Nowy Rok spełni wszystkie marzenie
May the Christmas season pass in an atmosphere of happiness and love and the New Year fulfill all your dreams.
Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia i szczęsliwego Nowego Roku.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Feast of St. Lucy: Św. Łucji December 13.
During the ancient times of the Julian calendar, December 13 was celebrated as the winter solstice, the official beginning of winter, marked by being the shortest day of the year and the longest night of the year. From then on, the days slowly become longer and the nights shorter. In 1582, when Pope Gregory the XIII changed the calendar to what we now know as the Gregorian calendar, the date of the winter solstice was changed to December 23.
In today's times we recognize December 13 as the feast of St. Lucy, a third century martyr, who dedicated her virginity to God and died a terrible death when she refused to marry. Remnants of the old Julian calendar still remain in some old Polish proverbs, passed on orally through the generations, as in :
" Swięta Łucja dnia przyrzuca. "The day(light) arrives with St. Lucy.
"Święto Łuci noc króci." St. Lucy shortens the night.
Perhaps the ancient celebration of the return of longer days, of light and increased sun, critical for bringing life back to trees and plants necessary for life accounts for this particular Polish custom:
On the day before the feast of St. Lucy, the girls place a branch of a cherry tree in a bottle filled with water and keep it in the window up to Christmas day. If the branch is covered in blossoms by this day, she will shortly marry. If not, she will remain single for a while yet.( Stanislaw Ciszewski. Lud Rolniczo-górniczy z okolic Sławkowa Powiecie Olkuskim. Kraków.1887) For others not looking for marriage prognostications, the blooms signify good luck and prosperity.
The success and failure of crops were (and still are!) so weather dependent that the day was also used to foretell future weather such as in the proverb:
"Święta Łucja głosi, jaką pogodę styczeń przynosi." St. Lucy announces what the weather will be in January.
The twelve days, beginning with the Feast of St. Lucy on December 13 until December 24, were carefully noted for each of those twelve days predicted what the weather will be throughout the upcoming twelve months of the year.
The feast day also officially marked the beginning of preparation for Christmas in earnest.
Today, December 2nd, marks the beginning of Advent season for 2019. In Polish tradition there is a beautiful custom surrounding Advent called roraty. It is a special early morning mass, before daybreak, devoted specifically to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The special name for this mass comes from the Introit, the opening antifon or Latin chant, Rorate Coeli, at the beginning of the mass. It was the prayer of the prophet Isaiah(45:8) begging the Lord for the arrival of a Savior.
The mass is said before dawn, in the dark, as a symbol that the world was in darkness until the arrival of Jesus as Light of the World. A special feature of the mass is the lighting of a special candle decorated with a white or blue ribbon, the colors associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Gwiazda Zaranna, the Morning Star. Traditionally the liturgy began in the dark, the faithful often coming with their own candles to light their way.
In this day and age, when many do not have access to churches that still offer this mass, the faithful can still have their own rorata, their own candle that is lit each morning before dawn. It can be their own time of thoughtfulness, reflection and quiet prayer during the Advent season while listening to Rorate coeli the Latin chant that opens the mass.
Born on 7 November 1867 we remember Marie Skłodowska Curie as the brilliant female scientist who in 1898 discovered a radioactive metal occurring in nature from the radioactive decay of uranium. She named it Polonium after her homeland of Poland. On the Periodic Table of Elements, Polonium appears as atomic symbol Po with atomic number 84.
In 1903 she and her husband Pierre Curie were awarded the Nobel prize "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel." She was the first woman ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize.
After the death of her husband, Marie continued her research and in 1911 she was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry for successfully producing radium as a pure metal. Equally outstanding in their achievements and worthy of recognition is that Marie Skłodowski and her husband Pierre Curie never applied for patents to protect their discoveries. They were believers of what is known today as the Creative Commons principle. Think Wikipedia, the multilingual, free encyclopedia, where anyone can add to the information and is designed as a collaborative work.
According to Marie Skłodowska-Curie:
"None of us ever intended to make any profit out of our discovery. Thus we didn't apply for patents and we always publicly announced the results of our studies as well as methods of extraction of the pure radium from the ore. Moreover, we always shared all our knowledge with other scientists."
The Curies never patented the process for purifying radium to keep for themselves. They had no intention to exclude others from making, using or selling their discovery. They published their work openly and freely for others to build on in order that they might come to new conclusions, new discoveries and increase the amount of scientific creativity. Other scientists and chemical companies began processing radium and selling it for cancer treatments but at such astronomical prices that for a while Marie Curie was unable to afford the very element she had discovered to carry on with her own research. It did not stop her from continuing to share her findings.
Marie Skłodowska Curie died in Paris on July 4, 1934. She is recognized as one of the twentieth century's most brilliant minds and was, at the same time, incredibly giving and generous for the benefit of mankind.
This photo was taken by my husband in Poland in December 2009 while we were visiting a museum in Stalowa Wola, only a few miles from where my grandparents, aunts and uncles were living during the German occupation of Poland during WWII. This is just a fragment, one episode among thousands, of what life (and death) was like under Nazi occupation.
Here is the English translation of the above poster and the story behind it.
On the evening of the 13th of October, 1943, there was a cowardly attack on the estate in Charzewice and shot by a band of murderers were the German [Reichsdeutche], couple FULDNER and their 6 year old CHILD.
The Polish people are hereby called upon to track down the criminals and their accomplices.
If within 24 hours, that is up to October 20, 1943 at 1400 hours, the murderers are not caught or reported to the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) - Aussendienststelle Stalowa Wola with specific details leading to apprehension and capture of the murderers - the following prisoners affiliated with the Resistance Movement and being held by the German police - will be publicly shot.
1.Bednarz Tomasz. 2.Brzowe Zdzisław. 3.Chuchro Stefan 4.Dyduch Marian. 5.Gawel, Jan
6.Hillenbrandt Adam 7.Kalandyk Julian 8.Kalandyk Władysław. 9.Killian Paul 10.Kluz, Julian
11.Kochański Adam 12.Kongol Tadeusz 13.Kowalczyk Tadeusz 14. Krucha Józef 15.Mikola Tadeusz 16.Niedziocha, Mieczysław 17.Lubera Ignacy 18.Lubera, Jan 19.Ortyl, Jan 20. Popiołek Roman 21.Paczek Michał 22.Rusek, Stansisław 23. Latasiewicz, Jadwiga 24. Lataziewicz, Zuzanna 25. Lysak, Antonina
The SS and Police Fuhrer of the District of Krakow
October 19, 1943.
This is the story behind the announcement and the eventual murder of 25 of Poland's citizens:
Earlier that year, on the night of June 23/24, 1943, a branch of the German Waffen SS brutally murdered the Horodyński family in Zbydniowo near Stalowa Wola (Rzeszow region). The murder was ordered by Martin Fuldner from nearby Charzewice. At the time Fuldner held the role of Minister of Agriculture in the General Government and was in charge of the wealthy Lubomirski estate in Charzewice (today a part of the city of Stalowa Wola). A lover of antiquities, Fuldner coveted the Horodyński manor house with its beautiful antiques, paintings, and porcelain as well as the estate itself.
That night in June of 1943, the Waffen SS were in the region with the purpose of ridding the area around the River San of resistance fighters. Through his powerful connections, Fuldner took advantage of that fact to liquidate the family and take over their estate. Under cover of darkness and using the pretext that there were partisans in the house, the Waffen SS brutally shot down nineteen Poles including a 12 year old boy who had gathered together to celebrate the marriage of a Horodyński cousin. The victims were shot in their beds, or while trying to escape. Two brothers, Zbigniew and Andrzej Horodyński attending the party managed to hide in a secret compartment in the attic and heard the shots as their family members were cut down. They managed to escape and recount the story of the murder of their family.
In reprisal, the Resistance issued a death warrant and executed Martin Fuldner and his family .
No one came forth with any information as to who was responsible.
There were witnesses to the execution of the 25 Poles named in the Announcement. " I remember the execution," says Michalina Hara, " when the Germans took retribution for Fuldner and his family. Along with other workers in the barracks we could see this tragic act through the gaps in the wooden walls. The day before the Germans made the local men dig a huge hole 4 meters long, 3 meters wide and 2 meters deep. The next day they brought 22 men and 3 women. We were all crying watching innocent people go to their deaths. They were separated into groups of eight and made to stand near the hole, a gun pointed at each individual. The signal was given and each body in the hole was also stabbed...before the shots, one of the men shouted, "Long Live Poland."
The two brothers that survived the attack, Zbigniew and Andrzej Horodyński, later gave their lives in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
Four years later, in 1947, the bodies of those executed were exhumed. Fifteen were taken away by family members to be buried in family plots. The other 10, with no family to claim them, were buried in a group grave along with another 65 individuals murdered in Rozwadowa, (also near Stalowa Wola) by the Germans.
This year, this October, marks the 75th anniversary of the murders in Charzewic and Rozwadowa.
Cześć ich Pamięci. Honor their memory.
Unlike many countries where the names of the months are derived the ancient Roman calendar, the names of the months on the Polish calendar generally come from some aspect of nature or the yearly agricultural cycle. For instance, Kwiecien, the month of April comes from the word kwitnie (blossoming). The month of July, is named Lipiec, from lipa, the linden tree that blooms so profusely during this month and is the source of wood used for carving and much loved by the bees that produce honey. October is no exception. The Polish word for the month is Październik. The word comes from the word paździerz, the inner fiber of the all-important flax plant (Linium usitatissium).
The flax plant was grown primarily by families to provide themselves with what would eventually become a piece of cloth. In olden days, whether you lived in America or in Poland, this was no small feat. If you wanted to eat, you had to produce your own food. If you wanted clothes on your back, you had to produce your own clothes and if you didn't have access to sheep for wool, you grew your own flax.
The flax seeds were generally planted in April and grew throughout the summer season. When it was ready in October, the process of converting the flax plant into a usable fiber began and was generally regarded as the work of women.
Step 1. The plant was was pulled out of the earth, tied into bundles and taken to the barns where it was dried very well. Then the flower heads were either combed or beaten to obtain the valuable flax seeds. Some of the seeds were saved and put aside for the next years planting. Some was crushed to obtain the all important flaxseed oil which was used specifically for frying and cooking purposes during the strict fasts of Advent and Lent when all meat and most meat products were eliminated from the diet. The leftover mash from the crushed seeds was fed to the cattle.
Step 2. The stems were then subject to a long-term treatment of exposure to water to help break down the plant structure to separate the fibers of the plant. This was done by spreading the stems out on grass when it was wet with dew, called dew retting. The stems were turned regularly to make sure all sides rotted equally. Dew retting would eventually yield a final thread that was gray in color and a hallmark of many older Polish linen tablecloths, shirts and blouses. Stems soaked directly in water would produce thread that was a light blond color
Step 3. The stalks were dried again. Mind you, all this is taking two to three weeks to get to the next step.
Step 4. Braking. The fiber that our ancestors were looking for was located on the outer skin of the flax stem. This was obtained when the prepared flax stems were now forced to bend into the shape of a W, using a tool called a brake (in Polish, międlica). It broke the inner layer (the paździerz), which would drop off, leaving the long outer layers, the flax fiber.
Step 5. Not quite the last step was the combing of the flax fibers into something smooth that could be spun called combing with the use of a hatchel. (photo)
Step 6. The Polish housewife now had a product that she could actually work with and spun it into a thread using a drop spindle or a spinning wheel. She spent the winter months spinning and then weaving the linen thread into cloth. The cloth became a sheet for a bed, a pillowcase, a hand towel or, more importantly, a blouse or a shirt. Something to think about when we visit the museums in Poland displaying folk costumes of the past.
Photo:Woman spinning courtesy of Polish Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw
Photo Collage: Google images
The painting by Polish painter and illustrator Piotr Stachewicz(1858-1938) depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary sowing crops. It celebrates an old Polish folk tradtion that falls on September 8th.
In the official Catholic church calendar, September 8 is celebrated as the birth of Blessed Virgin Mary but among the agrarian people of Poland, the Blessed Virgin was also the patron saint of winter crops so it was also came to be known as Matka Boska Siewna, Our Lady of Sowing. It signaled that it was time to plant their winter crops.
On this day, the farmers brought their seeds of wheat, rye and barley to church to be blessed with holy water. Added to the seeds were pieces of the grain that had been part of the bouquets blessed on Our Lady of the Herbs (August 15), or the herbs blessed during the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi, or perhaps the crushed catkins of pussy willows that were blessed on Palm Sunday. All those bouquets and flowers were felt to have special powers because they, too, had been blessed and the strength of those blessings were thought to insure a successful crop.
The first handful of seeds thrown to the ground were made in the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross was also made into the air over the fields in the hope that the blessing would protect the crops against the devastation of hail, or a dry or an overly wet season.
The proverbs of Poland often served as a kind of Farmer's Almanac foretelling long-range weather predictions, offering gardening tips, instructions on the migratory pattern of birds and even direction for living and working. There are plenty for September but these are just a few that pertain to this particular day:
Na Siewną zacznij siać żyto, będziesz miał chleb na siebie i na parobka myto!
On the feast of Our Lay of Sowing, begin sowing your rye, you'll have bread for yourself and pay for your help(field help).
Kiedy Panna się rodzi, już jaskółka odchodzi.
When Our Lady is born, the swallows leave.
W Narodzenie Panny jaka pogoda, osiem tygodni takich nam poda
The weather on the Birth of Our Lady, will give us eight weeks of the same.
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.