The roots of Dożynki date back to Slavic pagan times and the key similarities remain the same. Slavs would cut the last sheaf of cereal and weave a wreath decorated with nuts, berries, fruits, flowers and ribbons. The most experienced female reaper would carry it, in her hands or on her head, to the richest house where feast and party would take place.
Like with many local traditions, the Church found it impossible to convince people to abandon them, so it decided to embrace them instead. As long as the wreath visits the Church and gets the priests blessing before the celebration begins it’s all right. The pagan flavour to the festival remains unchanged.
The modern festival begins with a procession around the church. People wear their local traditional festive outfits. The procession is opened by women carrying the wreaths (notice that the female also carried the wreath in pagan times), loaves of bread and other local produce.
We looked at the symbolism of the wreaths in part one. It’s also interesting to notice the loaves of bread. This one says ‘ar Zimei’ which translates as “Earth’s Gift”.
The most popular design appearing on the loaf is a cross. Interestingly the loaves seem always to be round. We know the cross and a circle represent the sun. Here we see one adorned with wheat.
The shape and symbolism alludes to nature worship in its every aspect.
Once the procession encircles the church they place the offerings in front of the altar where they will be sprinkled with holy water. We rarely can see the connection with pagan culture more clearly than this.
Once the mass is over the celebration begins. A huge parade leads through countryside and streets of the town to the chosen locations where the party will take place. People carry the tools of their trade and this tradition extends to farm vehicles decorated with straw, ribbon, leafs and flowers…
Wonderful hay bail sculptures advertise the event…
Once the parade is over the party begins. Folk groups sing traditional songs often about life in the countryside and the joys and hardships of farming. The songs should mock and reflect current affairs.
They perform traditional, local folk dances…
There is also a contest for the beast wreath….
The fact that these celebrations persist illustrates the inherited need to celebrate life and changes in nature. I remember going to events similar to this as a child. I felt excited, I was going to take part in something special and important but once at the event I was usually disappointed. All the fun, it seemed. was contained in the performance. As a spectator there was very little to do. This was also my experience with the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh. It was a fun event but I was truly able to appreciate it only once I took part in the performance. That seems to me a more important difference than what gods people choose to worship.
In the past people celebrating Dożynki were the same people who prepared it. It was a small festival with family, friends and neighbours. What people celebrated was the actual survival of their community. As we see the symbolism and themes stay the same but with festivities like this one the true meaning is not religious but personal. It’s about being together and sharing the adventure of life. People rejoiced the harvest because they sweated in the fields together, they helped each other and they succeeded at sustaining themselves. Nature provided them with right conditions to grow food and they got ready to face the adversities of winter with confidence.