Bidding winter farewell in Gniezno, Greater Poland

By Monika Szafaryn, KONTAKT, Poland

Spring is coming, to paraphrase the famous TV show. The time to say goodbye to chilly days, red noses and frozen sidewalks has finally come and the citizens of Gniezno in Greater Poland have just celebrated the event in the old Slavic style. March 21st marks the beginning of the calendar spring and, like every year, about that time we celebrate the tradition of the drowning of Marzanna. Who exactly is Marzanna?


fot.: Józef Burszta / wikimedia commons

To put it simply, it is a doll made of straw, colorful cloth pieces, ribbons and various kinds of ornaments to make her look similar to a young girl wearing a bridal gown. Despite her look, she is the embodiment of darkness, death and winter, hence the name Winter’s Witch. Also known as Śmiercicha, Marzanna is thought to be a goddess of death. Old legends claim that Marzanna is responsible for the death of nature, so the time which comes right after the Autumn season, and only her death can bring nature back to life. According to folk tales, for the spring to come Marzanna has to be gone. The old custom says that Marzanna should be driven out of the village, which symbolizes the departure of evil, associated with winter, death and sickness. After getting her out of the village, Marzanna is drowned in a large reservoir, such as a river or a lake.


In the commemoration of old beliefs, in the city of Gniezno, Marzanna was once again drowned this year. In order to welcome spring, Marzanna symbolically withered away in the local river Jelonek. The tradition has been cultivated in the region of Greater Poland since centuries. For years Gniezno’s mountain climbing club called Ornak has organized trips under the slogan “The drowning of Marzanna”, commemorating the custom of symbolic drowning Marzanna and welcoming spring, this year being no exception. This time the organizers led the Gniezno’s inhabitants to Jankowo Dolne. If you want to get a taste of Gniezno’s traditions, you might want to participate in the trip and experience the drowning of Marzanna yourself if the chance presents itself!