New Year’s Eve – Sylwester (sil-VEST-er)
New Year’s Eve in Poland’s major cities is often celebrated by way of a formal ball. Some of which have a long history as for example the one sponsored by the Warsaw Philharmonic Society or the ball at the castle in Golub-Dobrzyn. Traditionally the New Year’s Eve ball always begins with a polonaise, an elegant court dance.
In the countryside, New Year’s Eve day may provide an excuse for some pranks. In the past if was not unusual for the village jokers to disassemble somebody’s wagon and reassemble it on the roof of a house, or to smear windows and doorknobs with tar. In the Żywiec region groups of boys disguised as devils, bears, and beggars would scour the village whilst rattling empty cans, they would accost any young woman they came across and knock her down in the snow. All tricks are forgiven, however, for they are believed to be the ousting of the old passing year.
Both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were considered an opportunity for fortune telling. New Year’s Eve predictions were considered especially powerful if no crosses or belts were worn and no blessings were requested. Typical rituals to ascertain the identity of a future spouse included looking into the steamed mirror after a bath on New Years Eve to see the person’s face; or sleeping on a log to see the person’s face in a dream. Another method was to catch the moon’s reflection in a mirror, which would then reveal the future spouse’s name. Many Poles would carry fish scales in their wallet as a means of ensuring prosperity in the coming year.
New Year’s Day
One important highlight of New Year’s Day was bread baking. Animals were shaped from dough—sheep, rabbits, geese, cows, and birds. Godparents often gave these breads to godchildren as presents. In some areas of Poland, paczkior donuts were baked to assure wealth for the coming year. The circle is seen as a representation of life coming full circle. Bread in the shapes of a ring or a cross were hidden at the dinner table and used for fortune telling. If someone found a ring, marriage awaited; a cross—entry into the clergy.
Traditions to ensure luck and prosperity in the forthcoming year include “Wake up early on New Year’s Day, wake up early for the rest of the year;” “Touch the floor with the right foot when getting out of bed, expect a lot of good luck for the whole year;” and “To get rich, put coins in a small bag and run through the fields shaking the bag, making a lot of noise.”
Traditionally, New Year’s Day was a time for prediction called podbljunaja or “under the plate.” One such practice is where each person takes a ring off his or her finger and places it into a bowl filled with water. A plate covers the bowl and songs are sung. At the end of each song, a ring is pulled out and the fate that the song foretells is believed to apply to the owner of that ring. Some Podbljudnaja foretell a wedding, some wealth, some a journey. In some cases, the participants create their own songs for the divination ritual and use some traditional symbolisms. Bread, grain, millet, and rye symbolize fulfillment and material security; gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fur, and expensive cloth symbolize luxury and wealth. Doing things together such as eating, drinking, working, standing or sitting together, symbolizes love and happy marriages. The songs are usually short since one quickly follows another. Traditionally, each refrain ends with a praiseworthy word such as “glory.”Another such ritual of prediction was if a thread hangs from one’s clothing, wrap it around a finger while reciting the alphabet. Whichever letter is reached when the thread is fully wrapped is the initial of the reciter’s future spouse. The color of the thread is also important; pale thread for a blonde spouse, dark for a brunette.
Best wishes, health and happiness for the New Year
Author of The Cypher Bureau –how the Poles solved Enigma