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Polish Easter Traditions, From Babka to Polish Easter Eggs (Pisanki)

A collection of pisanki, Polish Easter eggs, handpainted by the author.

A collection of pisanki, Polish Easter eggs, handpainted by the author.

Family Polish Easter Traditions

Like so many holiday traditions, a family's Easter traditions are usually a mixture of old customs and new ideas. Easter is not only a Christian holiday; its roots are in the Anglo-Saxon celebration of the rebirth of the Earth and the return of spring.

It is believed that "Easter" is actually a version of the name Eostre, the goddess of spring. Many of the current Easter traditions, like sharing Easter eggs and even the Easter bunny, go back to ancient pagan symbols of fertility and renewal but have evolved to have different meanings in different cultures.

In my family, we blended American customs with Polish traditions from my mother's side of the family and Russian traditions from my father's side of the family. Easter became a mixture of the Easter bunny, traditional Polish foods, and a few Russian customs.

Hot-Cross Buns on Fat Tuesday Start the Season

Hot-cross buns are sweet yeast bread with raisins or candied fruit in them. The buns are topped with a glaze icing in the form of a cross. It is the custom in Eastern Europe and the UK to eat hot-cross buns on Good Friday, but the Easter season in my family began on Fat Tuesday, the Tuesday before Lent. On Fat Tuesday, called Paczki Day by Poles, it is traditional to eat paczki, a fried sweet cake similar to a jelly doughnut.

For some reason, my mother always served hot-cross buns on Fat Tuesday—possibly because they were available in our community while paczki was not. My mother often gave up sweets for Lent, and sometimes these sweet cakes were the last cake we were likely to see before Easter.

Daffodils are always a sure sign of spring.

Daffodils are always a sure sign of spring.

Spring Cleaning Before Easter

Easter means spring cleaning, and, in fact, spring cleaning is an old American tradition as well as a tradition in many other cultures. My mother was a firm believer in a thorough spring cleaning, and it had to be done before Easter. About a week before Easter, we started the process.

Windows were washed, curtains were taken down, washed and rehung, rugs cleaned, light fixtures taken down and washed, floors waxed, furniture polished, the oven and refrigerator cleaned... the list went on as each corner and crevice of the house received our relentless attention. By the time Easter Sunday rolled around, every room of the house sparkled.

As a young housewife, while I was still a stay-at-home mom, I followed this tradition, and by Easter Saturday the house smelled of lemon polish, babka baking, and hyacinths and bouquets of daffodils were on the table. Those smells still remind me of Easter and of the real beginning of spring.

Pisanki (Polish Easter Eggs): A Polish Tradition

Polish Easter eggs, called pisanki, are decorated with intricate designs using a wax resist before they are dyed with several coats of different colored dyes. The technique for making pisanki is quite tedious and involved, producing beautifully detailed designs. Sometimes these traditional designs are painted onto wooden eggs.

Either the real eggs or the painted wooden eggs are popular gifts to give to friends and relatives at Easter. The traditional pisanki were works of art. The eggs were not hard-cooked because if left raw they would eventually dry out and keep for years. Our custom of having colored eggs has been passed down from pagan fertility traditions, and eggs still symbolize spring, renewal, fertility, and eternity.

Coloring Easter Eggs

Although no one in my family decorated eggs with the old Polish techniques, coloring Easter eggs with traditional egg dye was always a big project. We hard-cooked several dozen eggs and covered the kitchen table with newspapers before setting out the cups for the colors. We used to like to write our names or "Happy Easter" in clear wax crayon so that the writing would show up white when the egg was colored.

Afterward, we could stick on the transfer designs that came in the egg dye package. Usually, we finished coloring the cooked eggs and just couldn't stop, so ended up coloring all the raw eggs in the house, too. This got us into trouble more than once when one of our parents took a colored egg out of the refrigerator thinking it was hard-boiled.

In our house, Easter eggs were usually colored on Good Friday, and we never worried about the eggs going bad. Actually, in many countries, it is believed that Easter eggs will not go bad. They were displayed in a bowl or basket until Easter Sunday when we were allowed to eat them.

The colored eggs were an important part of our Easter traditions. They showed up in our Easter baskets and were a centerpiece on our breakfast and dinner table. At dinner, my father often played an egg cracking game, a Greek Orthodox custom, with other members of the family. Each person cracked the pointy end of their egg against the other. It was supposed to be good luck to have the egg that remained undamaged.

Traditional Sharing of an Egg at Easter

Another custom in our family was to peel an egg at the beginning of our Easter meal and cut it into as many pieces as there were people at the table. It seemed very important that we all shared a piece of the same egg, so sometimes the pieces were very small! The plate of cut-up egg was then passed around the table for each person to take a piece and wish others at the table good luck and good health.

Homemade babka is an Easter tradition.

Homemade babka is an Easter tradition.

Baking Babka

Baking for Easter began the day before when we would all help with making the traditional Babka and chrusciki (bow-knot cookies). The smell of baking bread made the whole house smell delectable, but we were not allowed to cut the bread until Easter morning. Babka is a slightly sweet yeast bread with raisins and sometimes candied citron in it. The top is glazed with a thin icing that is flavored with lemon juice and hardens as it dries. We usually decorate the top with a few candied cherries stuck into the icing.

It was always served with sweet unsalted butter in our house, and I follow the tradition. Of all the foods that we eat during the Easter holiday, Babka is the one that means the most and the one I miss the most if we don't have it. The recipe I use is not the traditional Polish version but one called Russian Easter bread, which has more raisins, glazed fruit, and eggs than the Polish babka.

A Polish Tradition: Blessing the Food at Easter

In Poland, it is traditional for each family to place the food they will eat on Easter into a basket and take it to church on Easter Saturday so that a priest could bless the food. Although we didn't follow this practice, my mother would tell us about the tradition each year. I believe that it was a girlhood experience that she missed. I'm sure that she was very pleased in her later years when her church began blessing the food on Easter Saturday.

The Easter Parade

Although the religious aspect of the holiday was not forgotten, we kids were much more excited by the other family traditions of Easter. We were ALWAYS outfitted with new clothes from head to toe on Easter. Getting a new Easter bonnet was the most fun, though the outfit usually included new dress, shoes and a new spring coat, too. We were not allowed to wear any of our new spring clothes until Easter Sunday, which made the day even more special.

My family was Catholic, and it was the custom for the women to always wear hats to church. Easter was the time to bring out the best hats decorated with flowers, ribbons or netting. My very favorite hat ever was a cylinder covered with small pink silk flowers that I wore with a navy blue suit. I did feel sorry for my brother who was usually stuck wearing a boring dark suit and white shirt.

I used to love to sing, "In your Easter Bonnet, with all the frills upon it, you'll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade."

One of my favorite Easter memories was walking on the boardwalk in Asbury Park near my uncle's house on Easter afternoon. The Easter Parade on the Asbury Park boardwalk in the 1950s brought out many families sporting their Easter finery and women in their beautiful hats. There we would look for the best outfits and the prettiest and most elaborate Easter hats. It was a fun part of the day's tradition to stroll on the boardwalk on a sunny, warm Easter Sunday.

Easter Baskets: An Overdose of Chocolate and Sweets

When I was a child, Easter Baskets didn't usually contain toys or the vast variety of candy that some do today, but we did have a few things we could count on. Our Easter baskets always contained lots of jelly beans, malted milk balls, chocolate and creme eggs, and one big solid chocolate bunny. There were also a few hard-boiled colored eggs and, often, a sugar egg with a scene inside.

Of course, peeps were stuck into the cellophane grass, too. Sometimes there was a little fuzzy chick or some other token Easter toy. As if this sugar overload weren't enough, we then always saw relatives from both sides of the family.

Sugar Overload!

My aunt or grandmother on my father's side of the family always gave my brother and me each a large coconut cream egg. They probably weighed about a pound each and were covered with chocolate and pretty sugar icing decorations. Sometimes we each received more than one as some other relatives liked to give these to us also. My aunts and uncle on my mother's side of the family could be counted on to give us either our second Easter basket or a huge solid chocolate Easter bunny.

In those days, no one seemed to even consider that 4 or 5 pounds of sugar and chocolate weren't good for us—the more, the better! We started eating chocolate when we woke up on Easter morning and usually had enough to last us about two weeks of pretty constant snacking. To this day, it doesn't feel like Easter if I don't have some chocolate with my Easter breakfast!

Easter Dinner

Easter food at our house seldom varied. Breakfast consisted of eggs, kielbasa, babka with butter, grapefruit, or oranges. With Easter baskets close at hand, we also had jelly beans and chocolate before and after breakfast.

Easter dinner always included baked ham, kielbasa, sauerkraut or coleslaw, pickled beets, hard-cooked eggs (sometimes make into deviled eggs), babka, and potato salad or oven-baked potatoes. Sometimes corn pudding and scalloped potatoes were part of the meal, too. For dessert, there was usually a decorated layer cake and chrusciki or other cookies.

In my own home, I usually leave off the sauerkraut and have coleslaw instead. We always have a baked corn pudding and potato salad and a strawberry gelatin salad. I plan the meal so that there will be plenty of leftover salads to have later with cold ham or kielbasa and some good deli or homemade rye bread.

Generations Carry on Easter Traditions

While the older generation of my family considered the Easter season to be a very holy time of the year, the memories and traditions I have shared are mostly secular. As with any holiday traditions, when certain foods are eaten or customs repeated year after year, they become a special part of the season that we enjoy passing on to our own children and grandchildren. As we grow older, our lives change, and some of these traditions are forgotten, but a few favorites become part of our family heritage and have the power to bring back pleasant memories of childhood, family and good times together.

Happy Easter!

Traditional Family Recipes: Polish and German


Deborah Minter from U.S, California on March 31, 2018:

Nice customs to share on Easter. The egg art is beautiful.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 09, 2013:

Jack Dorso - I suspect that the egg cracking at Easter time is a tradition in many different countries. In our family, the Russian branch seemed to get more excited about it. I like the idea of a tournament! That would make it a lot of fun for all ages. Thanks for visiting my hub and for sharing your family traditions!

Jack Dorso on April 09, 2013:

I was taught that the egg cracking bit was Polish in origin. Everyone gets an egg and holds it in their palm. Mom or Dad then taps each egg - with something, I don't know what - and those with undamaged eggs are supposed to be lucky for the next year.

Our family turned it into a tournament. We drew brackets up just like the NCAA hoops tournament. We'd scope out the best eggs on Saturday. Sometimes a match would take a couple of minutes because of the jockeying for position.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on March 24, 2013:

MCByszek - I'm so glad you liked my article on Polish Easter Traditions and hope you and your family all have a very happy Easter! Thanks for stopping by!

MCByszek from New England on March 24, 2013:

Thank you for sharing this piece of your Russian/Polish infused Easter holiday. I plan on practicing some of these traditions with my husband and toddler this year - I'm sure the food will be a hit!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on March 20, 2013:

Ebonynivory - I'm glad you enjoyed my article on my family's Polish Easter traditions. The first day of spring is the perfect time to begin that spring cleaning so that the house sparkles for Easter! Thanks for stopping in to visit!

Amy from Oswego, NY on March 20, 2013:

Thank you, Stephanie, for such an informative article. I find it fascinating to learn about other's hoiday traditions. And you have inspired me to start taking the curtains down and try to get my spring cleaning done before Easter!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on March 18, 2013:

DommaLeigh - Mmmmm...cheese pirogies! :) You are lucky indeed!

DommaLeigh on March 18, 2013:

My favorite pirogie is the one that is stuffed with farmers cheese and yes we have a few polish restaurants too. I am blessed to live in a culturally diverse area.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on March 18, 2013:

DommaLeigh - It does sound like we share many Easter traditions! How lovely it must be to live in a community that celebrates Paczki Day as well as other Polish traditions. I'll bet you can even buy pirogies! Thanks so much for commenting and sharing your family customs!

DommaLeigh on March 18, 2013:

Great hub, I am surprised to see that many of your traditions are much like my own family traditions. We have a polish community near by so Paczki Day has always been a feast of the over stuffed custard or jelly filled doughnuts for everyone in the area, no matter their beliefs. I am currently in my spring cleaning phase and soon will be setting up the Easter egg tree. (a branch in a pot,with blown out eggs hand painted with ribbons running through to hang them on the branch). I am not sure when the children will be doing the new eggs for the tree but each year we make new ones to replace any that might of broke in storage. The highlight of Easter has always been the egg tap war, after dinner we arm our self with an egg and last person with an unbroken egg becomes the new egg champ. Losers have to eat their eggs. So many fun traditions and great memories are carried on each year.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on March 18, 2013:

newusedcarssacram - Thanks so much for stopping in to read and comment on my hub about Polish Easter traditions. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on March 18, 2013:

pstraubie48 - Sharing and continuing family traditions is so important. The blessing of the food on Easter Saturday was a very special part of my mother's memories of Easter in Poland, and she was so thrilled when her church began to offer this blessing. I'm glad that you enjoyed reading about our Polish Easter traditions. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

newusedcarssacram from Sacramento, CA, U.S.A on March 18, 2013:

I must say that those Pisankis look absolutely gorgeous. The designs on them are amazing. Thanks a lot for sharing the Polish Easter traditions, I enjoyed reading your hub post.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 18, 2013:


This is so interesting. I honestly had never read about the Polish Easter traditions you have shared. The blessing of the food is awesome. We should all do this.

thanks for sharing.

Sending Angels your way this morning :) ps

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on March 13, 2013:

Torrilynn - I'm so glad you enjoyed reading about our Polish Easter traditions. Thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment!

torrilynn on March 13, 2013:

thanks for sharing Polish Easter traditions Stephanie

I really did enjoy reading and learning things

that I did not know before.

Voted up

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on March 13, 2013:

Tillsontitan - Those family traditions we shared with our kids, parents and grandparents bring back some wonderful holiday memories. Now that the Easter season is coming up again, I'm missing having the family close by so that we can do some of those things together. Thanks so much for sharing your memories!

Mary Craig from New York on March 13, 2013:

You've mentioned so many of the traditions we have in our family. Coloring eggs has always been a big thing with the kids and we all get together, Grandparents, Moms & Dads, and kids to color eggs. It gets a little messy but its certainly a family affair.

The food, the candy and the Easter Parade, oh and of course the new outfits and hats for church on Easter Sunday.

Thanks for sharing Stephanie (even if I am a year late).

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 07, 2012:

Hi Marcy,

I love to decorate eggs, too, and I love to see the amazing creations of other cultures. Enjoy your Easter!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 07, 2012:

Sally's Trove,

You've mentioned some of my very favorite things - kielbasa, cabbage, potato pancakes! Yum! Happy Easter to you, too!

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 07, 2012:

Hi Jools,

Mmmm...I love those Cadbury's eggs, too! Especially with a nice cup of coffee!

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on April 07, 2012:

I absolutely love the art of decorating eggs. It seems to be a worldwide tradition - so many countries use eggs as art forms. I haven't heard of the cookies you mention - they sound amazing!

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on April 07, 2012:

We're making kielbasa and cabbage and potato pancakes to go along with that babka this year, and cracking hard boiled eggs for good luck just as you described. :) Happy Easter, Stephanie, and thanks for a lovely hub celebrating our Polish Easter traditions. Up, up, up!

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on April 07, 2012:

So do I. I will have to make do with my already started Cadbury's chocolate Easter Egg for now. I'm off to your recipe page now! I fancy a spot of bread making.

Stephanie Henkel (author) from USA on April 07, 2012:

Thank you, Jools! Actually, I'm in the middle of my Babka baking right now! We always look forward to it as a special treat for Easter and Christmas. Thanks so much for stopping by to comment -- wish we could share a coffee and a piece of Babka... :)

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on April 07, 2012:

Stephanie, I would give anything for a piece of that Babka, it looks delicious. I have not yet had a Hot Cross Bun either yet, must buy some tomorrow. An interesting hub, lovely photos too, really enjoyed it. Happy Easter! Voted up and shared.

Thomas Sabo Australia on March 25, 2011:

I would like to start my own blog one day. This was a really nice blog that you made here. Keep up the success