Easter riders, tomorrow’s jejka and other Lusatian Easter traditions

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Lusatian Easter eggs/photo. Zauberei/PixabayToday, practically no one remembers that for a short period we were one state organism with the Sorbian Slavs. This happened after Bolesław Chrobry had reconquered the Slavic lands and established the border with the German Empire on the Sala River (to which the emperor had to agree). And although the Germans soon reoccupied these lands, leading to the Germanization of most of the Slavic tribes, the Sorbian minority has survived to our times. Sorbs live just beyond our western border on Nysa, but few people in Poland notice the existence of this tiny nation, and even fewer know it and its customs. Although they are close to us spatially and linguistically, some of their Christmas customs are no less exotic to us than, for example, the Easter customs of the Filipinos or the natives of the Peruvian Andes. Courtesy of dr hab. Rafał Leszczyński, we are pleased to remind you of the Easter customs of the Lusatians.

Magic water

In Poland, the custom of śmigus-dyngus has survived to this day, i.e. the bachelors pouring water on young maidens, which was supposed to make them happy in marriage (and generally “poured” with water for good luck). Water also played an important role among the Sorbs, for example the custom of bathing at dawn on Easter Sunday in one of the numerous ponds or streams in Lusatia was supposed to add health for the whole year. Throwing water on the girls (but on the first day of Christmas) served the same purpose. On festive afternoons, especially on the second day of Easter, relatives, friends and acquaintances visit each other. In homes, kofejapiće is held and tykanc (cake) is eaten, which used to be always homemade but is now increasingly being replaced by store-bought. As elsewhere, also in Lusatia, factory-prepared dishes are gradually replacing those made at home, but other holiday customs are cherished as evidence of a specific culture and national identity.

Tomorrow morning

Thinking about the Easter table (also about other festive meals), the preparations of the Sorbs start much earlier. Until recently, swinjorĕzanje, i.e. pig slaughter and sausage production, took place at the farms in the villages. It gathered many people from the neighborhood. The broth in which they were cooked was given to the neighbors for soup, who accompanied the rite of making the “big sausage” with singing. To the tune of Joseph Haydn, they sang: “ow, you wulka, ow, you wulka, ow, you wulka kolbasa”. The Sorbs were pushed by the victorious Germans mainly to the rank of poor peasants, serfs for centuries, for whom sausage was not an everyday food. Its preparation heralded the holidays and was a cause for joy. Now people are satisfied with easy-to-purchase ready-made meat products from large production and trading companies. On Palm Sunday (Bolmončka) palms are blessed in Catholic parishes, in the following days work is being done on the preparation of Easter eggs, called in Upper Lusatia tomorrow’s jejka, in Lower Lusatia Jute eggs in Lusatia. The naming of Easter with the word jutry/jutšy, and Easter Sunday with the word jutšnja, is related to the earliest service (jutšnja) and is the equivalent of the Polish words jutrznia and jutrzenka. In Lower Lusatia, godparents give Easter eggs to their godchildren, in Upper Lusatia, Easter eggs are brought to children by a bunny. Easter eggs are made by waxing, etching or scraping patterns on the eggshell. Lusatia is a real power in decorating Easter eggs thanks to the ingenuity of patterns and a variety of techniques.

Slepjanskie kantorki

The region around the village of Slepo (Lower Lusat. Slepe) covers seven parishes and is characterized by a distinctive dialect, costumes and some customs not practiced in other parts of Lusatia. One of them is the celebration of houses on the night from Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday by a group of elderly women-officers dressed in half-mourning, black and white robes. They sing in one voice and without the accompaniment of instruments, three chorales about the resurrection of Jesus, for which they receive small gifts as thanks from grateful household members. The last stage of the round is reached on Sunday around six in the morning. The candle lit then is a sign of victory over darkness and death.

Easter cavalcade

In Catholic parishes, men in parade clothes and top hats on their heads, i.e. the so-called křižerjo (crusaders) make a processional tour of neighboring villages on horseback on Easter Sunday morning. The horses are also decorated as much as possible. In the křižerjo’s hands they hold banners taken from the churches after the resurrection. The custom of horse Easter processions has been practiced in the Catholic parishes of Upper Lusatia since the mid-16th century as a reaction to the progress of the Reformation. In 1997, nine such processions left Lusatian parish churches. 430 riders participated in the largest one. According to the Serbske Nowiny newspaper, there were 1,480 participants in all nine. Similar figures are given for other years. Horse processions, in addition to expressing joy at the Resurrection of Jesus, are supposed to ensure good crops. In recent years, obtaining riding horses has become a problem. Even the help of Protestant neighbors, who willingly lent horses to Catholic compatriots on that day, is not enough now. The number of horses on farms decreased drastically; they have to be rented from breeding studs and farms focused on hippotherapy, and this costs a lot. Just like equestrian costumes or horse ornaments. Despite the costs, the horse processions characteristic of Upper Lusatia are maintained as an expression of the folk culture of the Catholic Lusatians, arousing genuine admiration of tourists and pride of tens of thousands of local people who watch the departures of horsemen from churches.

Let’s remember the Lusatians

The Lusatians were casually reminded of by the film “Zieja” that was just broadcast on TV, in which in one of the scenes of the secret police officers, talking to priest Jan Zieja, he recalled the story of his father, a soldier of the Polish People’s Army, about the massacre in the Battle of Bautzen, during which SS men tormented Polish prisoners of war gouging out their eyes with spoons. Some soldiers were supposed to be hidden in their homes by Lusatians.
Today, the Sorbian minority in Germany counts (according to Wikipedia) only 50,000 people. Great merit in the popularization of the Lusatian culture in Poland belongs to dr hab. Rafał Leszczyński (“Lusatian Phrasebooks for Poles” by him was published). – It is appropriate to reciprocate the Lusatian great sympathy that they invariably show to Poles. It is characterized by the sentence with which Dr. M. Kral (Łużyczanin) once began a series of lectures about Slavic nations for his compatriots: “The most famous among all Slavic peoples are undoubtedly Poles, known for their great deeds and heroic character.” There are not many other nations in the world that would rate us so highly. Let this be enough to justify the presentation of Lusatian Easter customs – says dr hab. Rafal Leszczynski. – Let us also remember that the Sorbs are also an economy; our neighbors are famous for farming freshwater fish, including carp. Maybe it’s worth it for our entrepreneurs to establish direct contacts with Lusatians. Today it is possible and I think it is worth it for many reasons. Sorbs are very happy when they have contact with us. I also encourage you to visit the lands inhabited by them. After all, this is an area just beyond our western border on Nysa.

Jaroslaw Manka, Rafal Leszczynski


Dr. hab. RAFAL ANDRZEJ LESZCZYŃSKI
(born 1933) – Polish linguist, specialist in West Slavic philology, academic teacher, translator of the Bible, member of the Polish-Sorbian Society.
He deals with, among others Reformation literature of the 16th century and mutual relations between Poles and Sorbs. He has about 500 publications to his credit.
He is the author of the first Lower Sorbian-Polish dictionary (2005). His latest work is “Sorbian Phrasebook for Poles, in the Lower Sorbian version”. He plans to write a “Panorama of Lusatian writing”.

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