Decorative Easter eggs are traditionally prepared by women on Holy Thursday or Good Friday. The most beautiful style, pisanki, have elaborate designs achieved by a process similar to batiking: the egg is dipped into each dye used in the pattern, with successive wax applications between dippings channeling the dyes to form the ultimate design. Good Friday and Holy Saturday are traditionally days of prayer and contemplation. On Holy Saturday, a basket of food containing bread, eggs, fresh butter, and a small piece of meat is carried to church, usually by the family’s sons, to be blessed by the priest. The Easter Resurrection Mass is celebrated at sunrise, and is followed by a breakfast (a symbolic breaking of the Lenten fast) at which the blessed food is eaten. The traditional Easter table includes hard-boiled eggs, ham with fresh horseradish, braided breads, a cheese and herb-flavored flat bread, and a tall, hat-shaped cake, or baba. In rural Poland, Easter Monday was traditionally a day for the rowdy ritual of dyngus, when young men could catch young unmarried women and douse them with buckets of water. In some parts of Poland, the women repaid the favor on Tuesday.
Christmas Eve, or Wigilia (Vigil Day), is traditionally more sacred than Christmas Day. The house is decorated with evergreen branches; a spruce or pine bough, decorated with apples and nuts, paper chains and cutouts, hangs over the table at which the Christmas Eve supper is eaten. The table for the Christmas Eve dinner is usually covered with a white tablecloth under which straws of hay, reminiscent of the manger, have been placed. The meal begins when the evening star is sighted. After prayer, an oplatek, a round wafer similar to communion wafers, but not consecrated, is broken into pieces and shared among everyone at the table, with each person offering good wishes to everyone else present for the year to come. (It is traditional to invite close friends and family members to share the Wigilia dinner, which is both solemn and joyous.) No meat is served during the Wigilia meal, which consists of thirteen different dishes as a reminder of the Last Supper. These dishes may be simple or elaborate; the point is to have abundant variety, of which everyone can partake. The one required food, aside from the oplatek, is kutia, a dish eaten after the sharing of the wafer. Kutia is a thick farina or barley porridge, sweetened with honey and often containing milk and poppy seeds. It is also served on All Souls’ Day in commemoration of the dead, and sometimes at funeral meals. After the meal, gifts are distributed to the children and the family gathers to sing carols until it is time to leave for church to attend the midnight Mass of the Shepherd (pasterka).
Christmas Day traditionally was observed much more solemnly than Christmas in America. It was a day of complete rest, on which not even meals were to be prepared. The more social celebrations of the Christmas season began the day after Christmas, on St. Stephen’s Day, which was a day for exchanging visits. Poles have a tradition of group caroling, and of constructing elaborate manger scenes which are either displayed in churches or public halls, or carried around by the carolers as they sing. Unlike the singing of carols in the family home, which takes place on Christmas Eve, group caroling begins only on St. Stephen’s Day. In the old days, wandering troupes of carolers might perform throughout the month of January was well, including in their repertoire religious dramas performed as either puppet shows or plays with live actors.