When you think of Easter, the Easter bunny or egg hunts may come to mind when you’re in the U.S.A. For me, symbolism behind Easter baskets in Poland, memories of Easter egg hunts in The Netherlands, tulips and willow branch decorations, and a full traditional Polish breakfast are what make Easter so special.
Growing up in The Netherlands in a mixed household with a Polish mom and a Dutch dad, we’ve always celebrated traditions from both countries. In our house, it’s never been a matter of celebrating one country’s traditions over the other, but rather of embracing both and mixing them to create our own traditions, too.
When it comes to Easter, however, there are some key differences in Dutch and Polish rituals.
Days leading up to Easter
Polish Easter is heavily influenced around Roman Catholic traditions, whereas Dutch traditions – though they can be religious – are also non-secular ones.
In Poland, churchgoers begin celebrating a week earlier by bringing willow branches and dried flowers to church on Palm Sunday (Niedziela Palmowa), symbolically marked as the day of Jesus’s entrance in Jerusalem.
Other typical activities in Poland preceding Easter including the traditional painting of hard-boiled eggs, or pisanki, which is actually also something kids do in Dutch homes. These eggs symbolize the beginning of a new life. As a child, I remember painting eggs together with my mom and grandparents in Poland, and going on Easter chocolate egg hunts with my younger Dutch cousins in our own backyard. According to Dutch tradition, the Paashaas (Easter bunny) hides these chocolate eggs in the yard, and kids have to find them!
In preparation for the holiday in Poland, it’s also customary to create and bring Easter baskets to be blessed in church. The Easter baskets will contain food that will be eaten on Easter Sunday including ham, bread, kielbasa, vegetables and more. On Easter Sunday, it’s customary to attend an early morning mass.
In our household, we’ve celebrated Easter Sunday by first splitting a Christmas wafer (opłatek) to exchange best wishes for the year ahead, and sharing of boiled egg wedges from the Easter basket that was blessed at church. Next, we feast! Polish breakfasts are among my favorites in that they are full of incredible food: kielbasa, roasted meats, assorted vegetables including tomatoes and pickles, ham, boiled eggs, vegetable salatka, bread and more. There really is no way to leave the table feeling hungry, and you’d better leave some room for some of the Easter cakes prepared which could include babka, makowiec (poppy seed cake) or sernik (cheesecake)!
Dutch tables and homes are often decorated with spring flowers like tulips, the painted Easter eggs and willow branches (paastakken), from which you hang the painted Easter eggs and other ornaments. In some Dutch households, you’ll also find what’s known as a Palmhaas (a decorated stick with a rooster made out of bread).
The Dutch breakfast is a bit different from the Polish one. Lighter foods including pumpernickel bread, croissants, and a popular Easter bread known as Paastol, a fruity loaf of bread with almond paste in the center, will also be on the table. Other typical items include Dutch cheese, ham, and assorted pastries.
If you want to wish Dutch people a happy Easter, all you have to say is Prettige Paasdagen! If you want to say the same in Polish, you can say Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych! It’s best to look up pronunciation for both, as I’m sure when you’re reading this, you may feel a bit stuck on pronunciation (can’t blame you!).
Finally on Easter Monday, Poles celebrate Smigus Dyngus, a day where boys are known to throw water on girls. In the Netherlands, people also do not go to work for Easter Monday as it is considered the second day of Easter and a national holiday.
Most importantly to me is the chance to celebrate Easter with my family no matter where we are. I’m proud to be Dutch and Polish, and get nostalgic when it comes to holiday celebrations, as I remember these times very fondly in both The Netherlands and Poland. I’m looking forward to celebrating Easter in the U.S. with my family soon, and mixing in even more traditions.
Guest writer Nicolette Orlemans grew up in a multicultural, bilingual home in The Netherlands to a Polish mother and a Dutch father. She is currently based in New York City, where she works as a communications strategist. In November 2014, Nicolette founded #CultureTrav, a Twitter chat that focuses on how travelers personally experience travel – adapting to cultural differences, bridging any language gaps, creating new homes as expats, and much more. You can view her community blog at culturewithtravel.com.