Like Christmas Eve, New Year’s in Poland was traditionally a time rife with superstition and mysterious practices. Most of these have not survived in any form to the present day, having become irrelevant with the eclipse of Poland’s old, rural way of life.
Fortunetelling: Regular readers of my blog will observe that Poles used to love fortunetelling. New Year’s Eve was no exception. A girl of marriageable age might be seen knocking on a hen-house door during the night, waiting for a rooster to awaken. If the bird awoke and crowed, the girl would marry within the year. I can imagine a desperate girl banging with all her might on the door until the riled rooster was all but forced to awaken and deal with the unwelcome disturbance.
People also placed various items on a large plate—a handful of earth, a ring, a sprig of myrtle, water in a glass, keys, and a rosary. They would then each pick an item blindfolded to predict their future:
- The handful of earth foretold death/ a funeral
- The ring foretold an engagement
- The sprig of myrtle foretold a wedding
- The water foretold a Baptism
- The keys foretold good husbandry
- The rosary foretold godliness
Shooting Parties: It was hard to get a decent night’s rest on New Year’s Eve in Poland back in the day. Beginning at twilight, and lasting through the night, bands of farm boys would travel around with the intent of making the most racket humanly possible. They would bang pots and pans, ring bells, and shoot off rifles. The goal was to scare off evil spirits. I personally think it was an excuse for the guys to let off some steam once a year. What else were they supposed to do while the girls were talking to roosters?
New Year’s Greetings: Poles had various greetings for each other on New Year’s. One of the more interesting ones was, “Życzę ci Dosiego roku,” or “Wishing you a Dosia year.” What the heck is a Dosia year, you ask? Supposedly, centuries ago (1600s-1700s), there lived a woman in Krakow named Dosia (Dorothy). Dosia was known throughout the city as a hardworking, loving and caring individual who always put others first. It is said that because of her goodness, God granted her extremely long life. She lived to be more than a hundred years old, unheard of in that day. Thus, to wish someone a “Dosia year” meant to wish someone a happy, healthy year.
Similar to today, New Year’s was traditionally a time to offer best wishes to your family, friends and neighbors in old Poland. They just did it a bit differently. One way was throwing oats at one other. Another method involved placing a loaf of bread covered with a white cloth on a table for all guests to see. It represented God’s goodness and bountifulness. My favorite is the oat-throwing, though. What better way to wish someone well then to whack them in the face with a grain?
Those were some of the Polish New Year’s practices I found most interesting (and entertaining). Again, none of these are done today because they were all somehow tied to rural life. Industrialization and urbanization in Poland were the death knell for them. Today, Poles celebrate New Year’s much like the rest of the developed world.
Still, I’m tempted to bring a handful of oats to my New Year’s Eve party…
For more info, see “Polish Customs, Traditions, and Folklore” by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab