The drowning of Marzanna is one of the few Old Slavonic rites that is still cultivated in various regions of Poland today. According to folklore Marzanna is a Slavic goddess who symbolized death. A remnant of pagan times, it is still a custom celebrated by Polish children to take joy in the upcoming springtime, the beginning of the rebirth of the earth after the lifelessness of winter. In this ancient custom winter is drowned or burnt and there is rejoicing in new life as shrubs and trees begin to green and flower.
The symbolic getting rid of winter generally takes place on the first calendar day of spring, March 21(this year March 19). The oldest writings about Marzanna in Poland comes in the 15th century when Jan Długosz wrote: “In some Polish villages on the 4th Sunday (Laetare) in Lent, the people place an effigy of Marzanna on long poles and then throw it into the nearest bog.” This year it falls on March 22.
Marzanna is celebrated by making a straw effigy or doll made from sheaves of grain or straw, rags or material in the shape of an old woman. Most often, the doll or effigy is of a size that can be mounted on a stick, which makes it easier to hold up in the air by small hands. Most often, schoolchildren and supervising adults participate in the ritual by making the effigy together and on the appropriate day, sometimes accompanied by the entire village, is taken to a local stream, river or lake and drowned. In other parts of Poland, she is burnt. Very often everyone returned to the village with a green branch as a symbol of spring.(Photo: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe)
This is a photo of a simple type of Marzanna I did with a group of schoolchildren and their parents a few years ago. The structure for the effigy was a wooden spoon, the arms and clothes made with corn husks but almost anything that can readily be glued can be used. The children clamored to draw the face they wanted on the front of the spoon with crayons or colored markers. The parents assisted and encouraged where needed. As we worked together, we talked about what we liked and didn’t like about winter and how did we know the weather was changing and what we liked best about spring. What was their favorite flower? We looked at pictures of snowdrops beginning to bloom under the snow and bears coming out of hibernation. I was able to share some Polish folklore and tradition. The children got to choose colors and glue together their own particular Marzanna (so creative!) and took her home as a sign that winter was over and spring was here.
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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.