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Polish History and Customs
Transcript of Polish History and Customs
Customs, and Culture
Culture of Poland
Architecture and Art
Music and Dance
Beliefs and Superstitions
Folk and Regional
Nation and Symbols
Holidays and Celebrations
People’s Republic of Poland – 1945 – 1989
Second Polish Republic
History of Poland
After more than a century of rule by its neighbors, Poland regained its independence in 1918, internationally recognized in 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles. The Paris Peace Conference and the Versailles treaty that followed resolved the issue of Poland's western border with Germany, while the issues of other northern, eastern and southern borders remained undetermined, inviting military action.
Polish dance contains elements of many cultures. Interaction historically with Czechs, Russians, Germans, Swedes, Bohemians, Ukrainians and Turks has produced a rich variety of uniquely Polish dances, such as the kujawiak, krakowiak and oberek.
Two state-sponsored Polish dance troupes are the Mazowsze and Slask who perform all over the world.
Christmas carols, too, are among the most beautiful and varied of the world's sacred music. They include the hauntingly lovely lullaby to the Infant Jesus, "Lulajze Jezuniu" which dates from the seventeenth century.
Fredryk Chopin (1810-1849) is the most beloved of Polish composers, though many people still think he was French. Indeed his father was French, but Chopin was born in Poland. His home is now a national shrine. He used the themes and rhythms of his native land making them part of the world's musical heritage.
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) known also as a statesman and patriot, gave the world much more than his "Minuet in G." Many of his musical compositions such as the "Fantastique Cracovienne" reflect his ability to use and knowledge of traditional Polish themes. Paderewski played with gusto and great showmanship, making him a favorite pianist throughout the world.
Known as the "Father of Polish National Opera," Stanislaw Moniuszko (1818-1872) produced the immortal Straszny Dwor (The Enchanted Court) in which the characters, from gentry to peasants, were genuinely Polish. Halka, another favorite, is still performed in our time.
Third Polish Republic
During the Piast dynasty rule (10th–14th century), Poland was formed and established as a state and a nation.
The historically recorded Polish state begins with the rule of Mieszko I in the second half of the 10th century. Mieszko was baptized in the Western Latin Rite in 966.
Following its emergence, the Polish nation was led by a series of rulers who converted the population to Christianity, created a strong kingdom and integrated Poland into the European culture.
Mieszko's son Bolesław I Chrobry established a Polish Church province, pursued territorial conquests and was officially crowned in 1025, becoming the first King of Poland.
This was followed by a collapse of the monarchy and restoration under Casimir I.
Casimir's son Bolesław II the Bold became fatally involved in a conflict with the ecclesiastical authority, and was expelled from the country.
After Bolesław III divided the country among his sons, internal fragmentation eroded the initial Piast monarchy structure in the 12th and 13th centuries. One of the regional Piast dukes invited the Teutonic Knights to help him fight the Baltic Prussian pagans, which caused centuries of Poland's warfare with the Knights and then with the German Prussian state.
The Kingdom was restored under Władysław I the Elbow-high, strengthened and expanded by his son Casimir III the Great. The western provinces of Silesia and Pomerania were lost after the fragmentation, and Poland began expanding to the east.
creator of the Polish state
completed the unification of the West Slavic tribal lands fundamental to the new country's existence
great conquests fundamental to the future of Poland
cultural sphere of Western Christianity
965 - marriage to Czech princess
966 - baptism
internal reforms aimed at expanding and improving the war monarchy system
a wise politician, a talented military leader and charismatic ruler
alliances with Bohemia, Sweden, the Holy Roman Empire
Turned Poland into a country that was comparable to older western monarchies and elevated it into the European elite
Conducted successful military campaigns in the west, south and east
consolidated the Polish lands and conquered territories outside of modern borders of Poland such as Slovakia, Moravia, Red Ruthenia, Meissen and Lusatia as well as Bohemia
He was an able administrator
built many forts, churches, monasteries and bridges
established the first Polish monetary system, and minted his own coinage
Widely considered one of the most capable and accomplished of the Piast rulers
Boleslaw I Chrobry
Reunited all parts of the Polish Kingdom after a period of turmoil
Failed to crown himself King of Poland, mainly because of internal and external threats to his rule
After initially escaping to Hungary, Casimir went to Germany, where in 1039 his relative the Emperor Henry III (who feared the increased power of the Bohemian ruler) gave him military and financial support. Casimir received a force of 1,000 heavy footmen and a significant amount of gold to restore his power in Poland. Casimir also signed an alliance with Yaroslav I the Wise, the Prince of Kievan Rus', who was linked with him through Casimir's marriage with Yaroslav's sister, Maria Dobronega. With this support, Casimir returned to Poland and managed to retake most of his domain.
Casimir I the Restorer
Casimir is the only Polish king who received and kept the title of the Great in Polish history.
When he received the crown, his hold on it was in danger, as even his neighbours did not recognise his title and instead called him "king of Kraków". The economy was ruined, and the country was depopulated and exhausted by war.
Upon his death, he left a country doubled in size (mostly through the addition of land in today's Ukraine, then the Duchy of Halicz), prosperous, wealthy and with great prospects for the future. Although he is depicted as a peaceful king in children's books, he in fact waged many victorious wars and was readying for others just before he died.
Casimir the Great built many new castles
Reformed the Polish army and Polish civil and criminal law.
Founded the University of Kraków which is the oldest Polish university, although his death temporarily stalled the university's development (which is why it is today called the "Jagiellonian" rather than "Casimirian" University).
Casimir III the Great
The Jagiellon Dynasty
Beginning with the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila (Władysław II Jagiełło), the Jagiellon dynasty (1386–1572) formed the Polish–Lithuanian union. The partnership brought vast Lithuania-controlled Rus' areas into Poland's sphere of influence and proved beneficial for the Poles and Lithuanians, who coexisted and cooperated in one of the largest political entities in Europe for the next four centuries. In the Baltic Sea region, Poland's struggle with the Teutonic Knights continued and included the Battle of Grunwald (German: Battle of Tannenberg; Lithuanian: Battle of Žalgiris) (1410) and in 1466 the milestone Peace of Thorn under King Casimir IV Jagiellon; the treaty created the future Duchy of Prussia.
The Battle of Grunwald or First Battle of Tannenberg was fought on 15 July 1410, during the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War. The alliance of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, led respectively by King Jogaila (Władysław Jagiełło) and Grand Duke Vytautas (Witold), decisively defeated the Teutonic Knights, led by Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen. Most of the Teutonic Knights' leadership were killed or taken prisoner. While defeated, the Teutonic Knights withstood the siege on their fortress in Marienburg (Malbork) and suffered only minimal territorial losses at the Peace of Thorn (1411) (Toruń). Territorial disputes continued until the Peace of Melno was concluded in 1422. However, the Knights never recovered their former power and the financial burden of war reparations caused internal conflicts and an economic downturn in their lands. The battle shifted the balance of power in Eastern Europe and marked the rise of the Polish–Lithuanian union as the dominant political and military force in the region
The Battle of
In the south, Poland confronted the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Tatars, and in the east helped Lithuania fight the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Poland was developing as a feudal state, with predominantly agricultural economy and an increasingly dominant landed nobility component. The Nihil novi act adopted by the Polish Sejm (parliament) in 1505, transferred most of the legislative power from the monarch to the Sejm. This event marked the beginning of the period known as "Golden Liberty", when the state was ruled by the "free and equal" Polish nobility. Protestant Reformation movements made deep inroads into the Polish Christianity, which resulted in unique at that time in Europe policies of religious tolerance. The European Renaissance currents evoked in late Jagiellon Poland (kings Sigismund I the Old and Sigismund II Augustus) an immense cultural flowering. Poland's and Lithuania's territorial expansion included the far north region of Livonia.
Casimir IV Jagiellon
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
A more closely unified federal state
Largely run by the nobility, through the system of the central parliament and local assemblies, but led by elected kings
The formal rule of the proportionally more numerous than in other European countries nobility constituted an early democratic system ("a sophisticated noble democracy"), in contrast to the absolute monarchies prevalent at that time in the rest of Europe
The beginning of the Commonwealth coincided with the period of Poland's great power, civilizational advancement and prosperity. The Polish–Lithuanian Union had become an influential player in Europe and a vital cultural entity, spreading the Western culture eastward. In the second half of the 16th and the first half of the 17th century, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a huge state in central-eastern Europe, with an area approaching one million square kilometers
Fought wars with Russia, Sweden and the Ottoman Empire and dealt with a series of Cossack uprisings
Allied with the Habsburg Monarchy, it did not directly participate in the Thirty Years' War.
The last decades of the independent Commonwealth existence were characterized by intense reform movements and far-reaching progress in the areas of education, intellectual life, art, and especially toward the end of the period, evolution of the social and political system. Russia, the Kingdom of Prussia and Habsburg Austria felt threatened and eventually succeeded to bring down that state and partition it among themselves.
The increasingly repressive policies of the partitioning powers led to Polish conspiracies, and in 1830 to the November Uprising in the Kingdom. The uprising developed into a full-scale war with Russia, but the leadership was taken over by the Polish conservative circles reluctant to challenge the Empire.
After the fall of the November Uprising, thousands of former Polish combatants and other activists emigrated to Western Europe, where they were initially enthusiastically received. This element, known as the Great Emigration, soon dominated the Polish political and intellectual life. Together with the leaders of the independence movement, the exile community included the greatest Polish literary and artistic minds, including the Romantic poets Adam Mickiewicz and composer Frédéric Chopin.
A prime representative of the Polish Romantic period, he is one of the country's Three Bards and the greatest poet in all Polish literature. He is also considered one of the greatest Slavic and European poets.
All works of Mickiewicz including Pan Tadeusz are in the Polish language. He had been brought up in the culture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a multicultural state that had encompassed most of what today are the separate countries of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. Numerous quotations from Pan Tadeusz are well known in translation, above all its opening lines:
“Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! ty jesteś jak zdrowie;
Ile cię trzeba cenić, ten tylko się dowie, Kto cię stracił.”
Lithuania, my fatherland! You are like health;
How much you must be valued, will only discover
The one who has lost you.
(translation by Katie Busch-Sorensen)
WWI set the Commonwealth against each-other and that was the factor that brought Poland back to the political world. With Woodrow Wilson's support, Polish independence was officially endorsed in June 1918 by the Entente Powers, on whose fronts sizable armies of Polish volunteers had been mobilized and fought.
Of the several border-settling conflicts that ensued, the Polish–Soviet War of 1919-1921 was the confrontation fought on a very large scale. The Treaty of Riga of 1921 settled the eastern border, preserving for Poland, at the cost of partitioning the lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Lithuania and Belarus) and Ukraine, a good portion of the old Commonwealth's eastern lands. Ukrainians ended up with no state of their own and felt betrayed by the Riga arrangements; their resentment gave rise to extreme nationalism and anti-Polish hostility.
The Polish - Soviet War
The successful outcome of the Polish–Soviet War gave Poland a false sense of being a major and self-sufficient military power, and the government a justification for trying to resolve international problems through imposed unilateral solutions. The interwar period's Polish territorial and ethnic policies contributed to bad relations with most of Poland's neighbors and to uneasy cooperation with the more distant centers of power, including France, Britain and the League of Nations.
It was a short (1921–1926) and turbulent period. The legislature remained fragmented and lacking stable majorities, governments changed frequently, corruption was commonplace. The open-minded Gabriel Narutowicz was constitutionally elected president by the National Assembly in 1922, but deemed not pure enough by the nationalist right wing, was assassinated. Poland had suffered under a plethora of economic calamities, but there were also signs of progress and stabilization. The achievements of the democratic period, such as the establishment, strengthening or expansion of the various governmental and civil society structures and integrative processes necessary for normal functioning of the reunited state and nation, were too easily overlooked. Lurking on the sidelines was the disgusted army upper corps, not willing to subject itself to civilian control, but ready to follow its equally dissatisfied, at that time retired, legendary chief.
Constitutional Order and Parliamental Democracy
On May 12, 1926, socialist Józef Klemens Piłsudski, prompted by mutinous units, staged a military overthrow of the Polish government. Piłsudski, conscious of Poland's precarious international situation, signed non-aggression pacts with the Soviet Union in 1932 and with Nazi Germany in 1934.
Józef Klemens Piłsudski, 5 December 1867 – 12 May 1935) was a Polish statesman—Chief of State (1918–22), "First Marshal" (from 1920), and leader (1926–35) of the Second Polish Republic. He is considered largely responsible for the creation of the Second Republic of Poland in 1918, 123 years after the Partitions.
Socially, Polish independence had boosted the development of thriving culture and intellectual achievement was high, but the Great Depression brought huge unemployment and increased social tensions, including rising antisemitism.
Poland was not economically and politically prepared for war on the western front. Piłsudski was dead and the regime of his "colonels", left in power after the Marshal's death, had neither the vision nor resources to cope with the deteriorating situation in Europe. The government undertook opportunistic hostile actions against Lithuania and Czechoslovakia, while it failed to control the increasingly fractured situation at home, where fringe groups and extreme nationalist circles were getting more outspoken.In 1939, the Polish government rejected the German offer of forming an alliance on terms which would amount to an end or severe curtailment of Poland's sovereignty; Hitler abrogated the Polish-German pact. Before the war broke out, Poland entered into a full military alliance with Britain and France; the western powers lacked the will to confront Nazi Germany and their (false) assurances of imminent military action were only intended as pressure applied to deter Hitler. The mid-August British-French talks with the Soviets on forming an anti-Nazi defensive military alliance had failed, in part over the Polish government's refusal to allow the Red Army to operate on Polish territory. On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, which secretly provided for the dismemberment of Poland into Nazi and Soviet-controlled zones.
Poland before World War II
In June 1945, as an implementation of the February Yalta Conference directives, a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was formed and soon recognized by the United States and many other countries.
A communist rule and Soviet domination were apparent from the beginning: sixteen prominent leaders of the Polish anti-Nazi underground were brought to trial in Moscow in June 1945.
Although the Yalta agreement called for free elections, those held in January 1947 were controlled by the communists.
During the most oppressive Stalinist period, terror, justified by the necessity to eliminate the reactionary subversion, was widespread; many thousands of perceived opponents of the regime were arbitrarily tried and large numbers executed.
Larger rural estates and agricultural holdings as well as post-German property were redistributed through land reform and industry was nationalized beginning in 1944.
The government's economic high priority was the development of militarily useful heavy industry.
Great strides however were made in the areas of universal public education (including elimination of adult illiteracy), health care and recreational amenities for working people (A majority of Poland's urban residents still live in apartment blocks built during the communist era)
In 1956 there was a shakeup in the communist regime. While retaining most traditional communist economic and social aims, the regime led by the Polish Communist Party's First Secretary Władysław Gomułka began to liberalize internal life in Poland. Several years of relative stabilization followed the legislative election of 1957. Władysław Gomułka declared a "Polish road to socialism" (curbing, rather than eradicating, capitalist elements), but was soon overruled. Gomułka's career was interrupted when he was removed and imprisoned by Stalinist authorities a few years later.
In 1968, the liberalizing trend was reversed when student demonstrations were suppressed and an anti-Zionist campaign initially directed against Gomułka supporters within the party eventually led to the emigration of much of Poland's remaining Jewish population. In August 1968, the Polish People's Army took part in the infamous Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.
The Polish Pope
In October 1978, the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła, became Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Polish Catholics rejoiced at the elevation of a Pole to the papacy and greeted his June 1979 visit to Poland with an outpouring of emotion.
On August 31, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, led by an electrician named Lech Wałęsa, signed a 21-point agreement with the government that ended their strike. Similar agreements were signed at Szczecin and in Silesia. The key provision of these agreements was the guarantee of the workers' right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike. After the Gdańsk Agreement was signed, a new national union movement "Solidarity" swept Poland.
The government's inability to forestall Poland's economic decline led to waves of strikes across the country in April, May and August 1988. Under the reformist leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union was becoming increasingly destabilized and unwilling to apply military and other pressure to prop up allied regimes in trouble. In the late 1980s, the government was forced to negotiate with Solidarity in the Polish Round Table Negotiations. The resulting Polish legislative election in 1989 was a watershed event marking the fall of communism in Poland.
For the first time in post-war history, Poland had a government led by noncommunists, setting a precedent to be soon followed by many other communist-ruled nations.
In the early 1990s, Poland made great progress towards achieving a fully democratic government and a market economy.
In November 1990, Lech Wałęsa was elected president for a five-year term. In December Wałęsa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.
In November 1995, Poland held its second post-war free presidential election. Aleksander Kwaśniewski defeated Wałęsa by a narrow margin—51.7% to 48.3%. He was reelected in 2000.
Poland joined the European Union in May 2004. Both President Kwaśniewski and the government were vocal in their support for this cause.
Poland's president Lech Kaczyński and all aboard died in a plane crash on April 10, 2010 in western Russia, near Smolensk. President Kaczyński and other prominent Poles were on the way to the Katyn massacre anniversary commemoration. The Smolensk tragedy brought into the open deep divisions within the Polish society and became a destabilizing factor in Poland's politics.
Bronisław Komorowski became Acting President on 10 April 2010 following the death of President Lech Kaczyński. His first decision was to announce seven days of national mourning beginning on 10 April. According to the Constitution of Poland, Komorowski was required to set a date for the next presidential election within 14 days of assuming the position, the election date coming within 60 days of that announcement. On 21 April, his office announced that the election would be held on 20 June. In the election, he got 41.54% of votes in the first round and then faced Jarosław Kaczyński, who got 36.46% of votes in the first round.
In the runoff Komorowski was elected President and formally took office on 6 August 2010.
Festival of Stars
Among Poles, wherever they are, the most beloved and beautiful of all traditional festivities is that of Christmas Eve. It is then that the Wigilia, or Christmas Eve Dinner is served. It is a solemnly celebrated occasion and arouses deep feelings of kinship among family members.
For days in advance, Poles prepare the traditional foods and everyone anxiously awaits the moment when the first star, known as the Gwiazdka, appears in the eastern sky. That is when the feast to commemorate the birth of the Christ Child begins.
There is always a thin layer of hay under the white tablecloth in memory of the Godchild in the manger.
Before sitting down at the table, everyone breaks the traditional wafer, or Oplatek and exchanges good wishes for health, wealth and happiness in the New Year.
The dinner itself differs from other evening meals in that the number of courses is fixed at seven, nine or eleven.
According to myth, in no case must there be an odd number of people at the table, otherwise it is said that some of the feasters would not live to see another Christmas.
A lighted candle in the windows symbolizes the hope that the Godchild, in the form of a stranger, may come to share the Wigilia and an extra place is set at the table for the unexpected guest. This belief stems from the ancient Polish adage, "A guest in the home is God in the home."
Items that would normally be included in a traditional Wigilia menu include mushroom soup, boiled potatoes (kartofle), pickled herring (sledzie), fried fish, pierogi, beans and sauerkraut (groch i kapusta), a dried fruit compote, babka, platek, assorted pastries, nuts and candies.
A long-time tradition in Poland during the Christmas season is the building of "Szopki", which are elaborate form of the Nativity scene. This tradition started back in the 13th century in Krakow, Poland, and remains an annual tradition whereas major prizes are awarded for the most elaborately decorated and designed Szopki.
Szopki are puppet shows with "theaters" built like a little house with two towers, open in the front where a small crib is set.
The Krakowian creches sometimes reach 1.8 m in height. Their construction is based on elements of Krakow's historic architecture including Gothic spires, Renaissance facades and Baroquian-topped domes.
An especially popular custom is the sharing of the "Oplatek" or Christmas wafer, also known as "Anielski Chleb" or Angel Bread.
For the people of Poland and other Western Slavonic nations the "Oplatek" has always had a mystical quality.
The "Oplatek" is much like the unleavened wheat hosts used at Mass. Different Christmas scenes are embossed in the baking process.
Even absent members of the family receive an "Oplatek" by mail as a sign of their communion with their loved ones at home.
The Festival of Stars
On Christmas Day the village streets are traversed by boys and girls singing carols, and carrying Szopki.
Other boys, dressed in costumes depicting King Herod, Death, a Devil, an Angel, a Bishop, and strange beasts, are led by a Star Boy. The " Festival of the Star " is brought to a close on January 6th, Three Kings Day, or in some regions of Poland on Candlemass Day, February 2nd.
The blessing of the Easter food, or the "Swieconka" is a tradition dear to the heart of every Pole. Being deeply religious, he is grateful to God for all His gifts of both nature and grace, and, as a token of this gratitude, has the food of his table sanctified with the hope that spring, the season of the Resurrection, will also be blessed by God's goodness and mercy.
The usual fare on the Easter table includes ham and kielbasa, cakes of all kinds - particularly babka; eggs - some shelled or some decorated. There is usually a Paschal Lamb or "Baranek" made of butter, some cheese, horseradish, salt, vinegar and oil.
The food is brought to the church and blessed by the parish priest on Holy Saturday. The food can also be blessed in the home. After the blessing, the food is usually set aside until Easter morning when the head of the house shares the blessed egg, symbol of life, with family and friends. Having exchanged wishes, all continue to enjoy a hearty meal.
The sharing of the bread, salt and wine is an old Polish tradition. At the wedding reception, the parents of the bride and groom, greet the newly married couple with bread, which is lightly sprinkled with salt and a goblet of wine.
With the bread, the parents are hoping that their children will never hunger or be in need. With the salt, they are reminding the couple that their life may be difficult at times, and they must learn to cope with life's struggles. With the wine, they are hoping that the couple will never thirst and wish that they have a life of good health, and good cheer and share the company of many good friends.
The parents then kiss the newly married couple as a sign of welcome, unity and love.
Mazowsze is a famous Polish folk group. It is named after the Mazowsze region of Poland.
Mazowsze was established by a decree issued by the Ministry of Culture and Art in 1948. The folk group that would maintain regional artistic traditions and the traditional folk repertoire of songs and dances of the Masovian countryside.
Wycinanki are Polish decorative paper cutouts. They were used to decorate the walls of ceiling beams in countryside cottages and given as gifts to family members and friends. The colorful cut-outs of flowers, circles and stars with a symmetrical arrangement reflect a particularly high level of artistry.
In addition to the multi-colored cut-outs of peacocks, roosters and other birds, there are also decorative scenes depicting special events throughout the year. Wycinanki were traditionally cut as a form of relaxation in rural areas of Poland after the chores of the day were completed. This folk art was passed down from generation to generation and, as it developed, became quite competitive in Polish towns and villages. New themes and ideas developed as the artwork became more detailed and intricate. The decorative cut-outs became popular throughout Poland in the middle of the 19th century, and remain a treasured form of Polish folk art.
As a country with many agricultural traditions, Poland still continues to celebrate harvest festivals each year from mid-August through mid-September.
In the past, the harvest festival was sponsored by the lord of the manor for the people who worked his fields and harvested his crops. Villagers would dress in colorful folk costumes singing and playing instruments for the lord and lady of the manor. In celebration of the completed harvest, they carried wreaths made of corn, wheat and a variety of flowers as an offering to the owner of the estate. A loaf of bread, baked from the fresh grain, was also presented to the lord and lady of the manor, who, in turn, gave a slice to the guests who had worked hard to make the harvest possible. The people then danced and sang songs in praise of the master and the harvest.
In Poland today, the residents in farming regions have altered the ceremony to include everyone living in the entire countryside. The role of the master of the manor has now been assigned to elected officials and area representatives. However, the participants continue to dress in traditional costumes and carry beautifully-made harvest wreaths in an attempt to surpass each other in originality and beauty.
Harvest Celebration - Dozynki
Decorative wooden plates and boxes are a prominent form of folk art in Poland. Some are carved, others are painted and some are embossed with brass or copper. They portray holidays, seasons of the year, special occasions as well as highlight regional colors, costumes, and designs.
Weaving is a very old craft and tradition in Poland. Along with basket-making, this craft dates back to early medieval settlements in Opole and Gdansk, where striped and check fabrics, similar to those used today, originated.
The mainstays of the Polish diet are meat, bread, and potatoes. For many Poles, dinner is not dinner without meat, primarily pork. Bread is consumed and treated with reverence. In the past, if a piece of bread fell on the ground, it was picked up with reverence, kissed, and used to make the sign of a cross. Peasants trace a cross on the bottom of a loaf of bread with a knife before slicing it. Poles consume three-hundred pounds of potatoes per capita per year. Vegetables consumed are local cool weather crops such as beets, carrots, cabbage and legumes (beans, peas, lentils). Another important source of nutrition is milk in various forms such as fresh or sour milk, sour cream, buttermilk, whey, cheese, and butter.
Legend has it that while hunting the first king of the Poles encountered a huge white eagle making a strange cry and hovering over a nest of young. Such white birds were not known in the land and the King took it as an omen.
The national anthem, Jeszcze Polska nie Zginła ("Poland Has Not Yet Perished"), was written in 1797 by an émigré soldier-poet, Józef Wybicki, serving in the Polish legions of Napoleon Bonaparte's army in Italy. It was adopted in 1918.
Guardian of Europe
Polish identity is rooted in its past. Some see Poland as the bulwark of Christendom. If the Poles had not defeated the Muslim Crimean Tatars and Turks during King Jan III Sobieski's raising of the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, Christianity would have been supplanted by Islam.
Poland's role as guardian of western European civilization against the Russians and later the Bolsheviks is commemorated by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the center of Warsaw.
There is an emotional bond between the Catholic Church and Poles. This bond was formed because for the last several centuries Poland's main enemies were Orthodox Russians and Protestant Germans. In this context, a Pole was a Catholic and a Catholic was a Pole. The bond was strengthened because individuals persecuted by the authorities could seek succor and solace from the Church. Further, during communist times, the Church was the one institution that presented an independent voice.
Saint Peter and Paul Archcathedral Basilica
Polish belongs to the west Slavic group of languages of the Indo-European language family, which in turn is part of the Nostratic macrofamily. Poles use the Latin alphabet. Literary Polish developed during the sixteenth century and is based on the speech of educated city people, upper class usage, and the Great Polish and Little Polish Dialects.
In Polish mythology, spoiling is a term used to mean acurse being on someone, or working magic againstsomeone. One way of doing this is measuring out theexact length of someone’s footprint with a string, andthen burning the string. A footprint in mud or snow wasdug up and buried under the victim’s house to causegrief. Spoiling may be averted by lighting a candle if youare not face to face with the culprit, or by spitting on theground, or by throwing dirt in the direction of the culpritwalking away.
As for the spilling salt superstition, known of bringing quarrels, it has its own history too, that dates back to Middle Ages when salt was very expensive. Only the richest could afford to buy this rare spice. You can imagine a huge quarrel when a servant spilt it. This is why people remembered salt spilling as something that brings bad luck.
Red slip-knots are also a popular superstition in Poland. As red is said, in many cultures, to undo spells, it is very common for Polish people to attach red slip-knots to a babies strollers or clothes to protect the baby from bad charm.
It is believed that if the first person to enter a house on a Christmas Eve is a woman, it is a bad omen, thus is it more preferable when a man is the first to cross the threshold of the house. During supper on Christmas Eve, each dish has tobe sampled. A traditional meal consists of twelve dishes. The more you eat, the more pleasure will await you in the upcoming year.
Poland has some lucky charms too. It is widely believed that if you see a chimney-sweeper, you have to grab your button (hopefully you have one at that particular moment - on your clothes, bag, etc). According to the saying, only by grabbing it, you will be guaranteed to have good luck.
It is good if the wedding is in a month that has the letter "R" in its name while it is considered bad luck to have it in May. Secondly, the day before the wedding the bride should put her shoes on the window sill to have nice weather for the next day. The bride's bouquet should not have roses in it since sharp spikes symbolize a cut on the heart. It is also important not to be seen by your future husband in a gown and also not to look at your reflection in the mirror when you are completely dressed. What is more, there should be money in the bride's shoes to assure wealth. And here is a little tip: if you want to rule in your upcoming marriage throw delicately a patch of your dress on the groom's shoes while kissing in front of the altar. At that moment you will gain the power of deciding.
Polish cities and towns reflect the whole spectrum of European styles. Poland's Eastern frontiers used to mark the outermost boundary of the influences of Western architecture on the continent.History has not been good to Poland's architectural monuments. However, a number of ancient structures have survived: castles, churches, and stately buildings, often unique in the regional or European context. Some of them have been painstakingly restored, like Wawel Castle, or completely reconstructed after being destroyed in the Second World War, including the Old Town and Royal Castle in Warsaw, as well as the Old Towns of Gdańsk and Wrocław. Architecture of Gdańsk is mostly Hanseatic architecture, common in cities along the Baltic sea and in the northern part of Central Eastern Europe. The architectural style of Wrocław is representative of German architecture, since it was a part of the German states for centuries. The centre of Kazimierz Dolny on the Vistula is a good example of a well-preserved medieval town. Poland's ancient capital, Kraków, ranks among the best-preserved Gothic and Renaissance urban complexes in Europe. Meanwhile, the legacy of the Kresy Marchlands of Poland's eastern regions with Wilno and Lwów (now Vilnius and Lviv) as two major centres for the arts, played a special role in these developments with Roman-Catholic church architecture deserving special attention.
The Wawel Castle
Royal Castle in Warsaw,
Polish art has always reflected European trends while maintaining its unique character. The Kraków school of Historicist painting developed by Jan Matejko produced monumental portrayals of customs and significant events in Polish history. Stanisław Witkiewicz was an ardent supporter of Realism in Polish art, its main representative being Jozef Chełmoński. The Młoda Polska (Young Poland) movement witnessed the birth of modern Polish art, and engaged in a great deal of formal experimentation led by Jacek Malczewski (Symbolism), Stanisław Wyspiański, Józef Mehoffer, and a group of Polish Impressionists. Artists of the twentieth-century Avant-Garde represented various schools and trends. The art of Tadeusz Makowski was influenced by Cubism; while Władysław Strzemiński and Henryk Stażewski worked within the Constructivist idiom. Distinguished contemporary artists include Roman Opałka, Leon Tarasewicz, Jerzy Nowosielski, Wojciech Siudmak, Mirosław Bałka, and Katarzyna Kozyra and Zbigniew Wąsiel in the younger generation. The most celebrated Polish sculptors include Xawery Dunikowski, Katarzyna Kobro, Alina Szapocznikow and Magdalena Abakanowicz. Since the inter-war years, Polish art and documentary photography has enjoyed worldwide recognition. In the sixties the Polish Poster School was formed, with Henryk Tomaszewski and Waldemar Świerzy at its head.
1838 - 1893
Jan Matejko-Astronomer Copernicus-Conversation with God
1849 – 1914
1869 - 1946
Pioneer of Polish Classical Avantgarde
Space Composition 4
1898 - 1951
Kujawiak z oberkiem - Słowianki
Mazowsze - Lulajże, Jezuniu
Frédéric Chopin - Prelude in E-Minor
Paderewski Plays his Minuet in G,Op. 14, No 1
Since the Christian and the subsequent access to
Western European civilization, Poles developed a significant literary production in LatinConspicuous authors of the Middle Ages are among others Gallus Anonymus, Wincenty Kadłubek and Jan Długosz, an author of the monumental work on the history of Poland. With the arrival of the Renaissance, Poles came under the influence of the artistic patterns of the humanistic style, actively participating in the European issues of that time with their Latin works.
Literature in Latin
The origins of Polish literature written in the first language go back beyond the 14th century. In the 16th century the poetic works of Jan Kochanowski established him as a leading representative of European Renaissance literature. Baroque and Neo-Classicist belle letters made a significant contribution to the cementing of Poland's peoples of many cultural backgrounds. The early 19th century novel "Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse" by Count Jan Potocki, which survived in its Polish translation after the loss of the original in French, became a world classic. Wojciech Has' film based on it, a favourite of Luis Buñuel, later became a cult film on university campuses. Poland's great Romantic literature flourished in the 19th century when the country had lost its independence. The poets Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Sowacki and Zygmunt Krasiski, the "Three Bards", became the spiritual leaders of a nation deprived of its sovereignty, and prophesied its revival. The novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz, who won the Nobel Prize in 1905, eulogised the historical tradition. It is difficult to grasp fully the detailed tradition of Polish Romanticism and its consequences for Polish literature without a thorough knowledge of Polish history.
Literature in Polish
Monument to Adam Mickiewicz, one of the greatest Polish poets, at the Main Market Square in Kraków
In the early 20th century many outstanding Polish literary works emerged from the new cultural exchange and Avant-Garde experimentation. The legacy of the Kresy marshlands of Poland's eastern regions with Wilno and Lwów (now Vilnius and Lviv) as two major centres for the arts, played a special role in these developments. This was also a region in which Jewish tradition and the mystic movement of Hasidism thrived. The Kresy were a cultural trysting-place for numerous ethnic and national groups whose achievements were inspiring each other. The works of Bruno Schulz, Bolesław Leśmian, and Józef Czechowicz were written there. In the south of Poland, Zakopane was the birthplace of the avant-garde works of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy). And, last but not least, there was Władysław Reymont awarded 1924 Nobel prize in literature for his novel Chłopi (The Peasants).
After the Second World War many Polish writers found themselves in exile, with many of them clustered around the Paris-based "Kultura" publishing venture run by Jerzy Giedroyc. The group of emigre writers included Witold Gombrowicz, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, Czesław Miłosz, and Sławomir Mrożek.
Zbigniew Herbert, Tadeusz Różewicz, Czesław Miłosz, and Wisława Szymborska are among the most outstanding 20th century Polish poets, including novelists and playwrights Witold Gombrowicz, Sławomir Mrożek, and Stanisław Lem (science fiction). The long list includes Hanna Krall whose reportage focuses mainly on the war-time Jewish experience, and Ryszard Kapuściński with books translated into many languages.
Polish Nobel Prize in Literature Laureates
Henryk Adam Aleksander Pius Sienkiewicz; (1846 – 1916) was a Polish journalist and Nobel Prize-winning novelist. A Polish szlachcic (noble) of the Oszyk coat of arms, he was one of the most popular Polish writers at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905 for his "outstanding merits as an epic writer."
Władysław Stanisław Reymont (1867 - 1925) was a Polish novelist and the 1924 laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature. His best-known work is the award-winning four-volume novel Chłopi (The Peasants)
Czesław Miłosz (1911 – 2004) was a Polish poet, prose writer and translator of Lithuanian origin. His World War II-era sequence The World is a collection of 20 "naive" poems. After serving as a cultural attaché for the Republic of Poland (1945–1951), he defected to the West in 1951, and his nonfiction book The Captive Mind (1953) is a classic of anti-Stalinism. From 1961 to 1998 he was a professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. Miłosz later became an American citizen and was awarded the 1978 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Wisława Szymborska-Włodek (1923 – 2012) was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Prowent, she later resided in Kraków until the end of her life. She was described as a "Mozart of Poetry". In Poland, Szymborska's books have reached sales rivaling prominent prose authors.
Szymborska was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality".