In Poland, Pentecost is known as “Zielone Swiatki,” meaning “Green Week” or “Green Holiday.” The name derives from its ancient pagan roots in the pre-Christian spring festival of the Slavs.
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However, its exact date and official reason for being celebrated is based on the Christian teaching of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and early believers gathered in Jerusalem. This is regarded by many as the “birthday” of the Church since the power of the Spirit was needed to carry out the task of world evangelisation that Jesus assigned in the Great Commission before His Ascension.
As Pentecost is a public holiday in Poland, most businesses will be closed. The seventh Sunday and Monday after Easter are observed, the Monday being taken off to create a long weekend. As the date is based on Easter, it is movable, but it falls in mid-May to early June.
Some elements of the ancient pagan festival remain in practice today during Pentecost celebrations, though others have fallen out of usage and some are only locally observed. Originally, these were fertility rites and a celebration of the arrival of spring weather.
Today, some still decorate their homes with green branches, especially birch branches, and flowers. They may also sweep out their house with a birch-branch broom to “cleanse” it. Additionally, walk about with a long branch with flowers and ribbons tied around it, walk through fields with torches “to drive away evil spirits,” or hold gigantic bonfires. Wreaths of greenery and flowers are also wrapped around the heads of cattle.
Churches in Poland mark the descent of the Spirit and empowerment of the Church with special services. In some of them, a carved, wooden dove is swung around the congregation to symbolize the Spirit’s descent. Images of doves, flames of fire, and wind are commonly seen as these also represent the Spirit. Baptisms often take place on Pentecost as well because of the 3,000 new converts baptised on the first Day of Pentecost almost 2,000 years ago.
Many also take advantage of the off-work day Pentecost provides to go on a family picnic in the countryside. Those touring Poland during Pentecost may wish to take part in any of the following activities:
- See a Polish spring in the pristine wilderness reserve of the Bialowieza Forest National Park. There are hundreds of European bison to see, besides the pygmy owl, and abundant bird life. You can get a guided tour, which can be taken by foot, by bike, or by horse-drawn carriage.
- Take part in local “hunting the green man” games. The game hails from pagan times but is still part of Pentecost celebrations. In it, kids essentially play hide-and-go-seek with a man dressed up in leaves and moss, who is hiding in the woods.
- Visit any of Poland’s great cathedrals for Pentecost services and to admire the amazing architecture. Consider the Romanesque-style Plock Cathedral (in Plock), the Baroque-style Field Cathedral of the Polish Army in Warsaw, the Gothic Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Elblag, and the mixed Romanesque and Gothic style Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Gorzow.
Pentecost in Poland involves a mix of Christian and ancient pagan Slavic traditions, along with the simple desire to get out and enjoy the spring weather.