Marzanna: The Witch of Winter that Children light on Fire and Drown (or maybe used to?).
As with all things in popular culture these days- the tradition of Marzanna is marking a new role in many Kindergarten classrooms. Eight years ago, I shadowed a local kindergarten class as they marched down from their elementary school to the local river, where they took a great scarecrow of a woman, named Marzanna, that they had created themselves, who represented winter, and threw her into the flowing waters of the neighborhood for her yearly drowning. Disappointingly, they did not light her on fire first, as is tradition- but looking back that was probably the safer choice. I always thought this might be a little young for children to commit their first murder- and it seems the cultural norms have caught up with my thoughts- as I recently asked my nephew the day after the yearly drowning date of hundreds of Marzannas, how the murder went. I was hoping that now he was almost seven, they may have lit her on fire first! What an experience that would be. But he said, well we threw her in the river, and then we saved her. What? You saved her? Does this mean that winter won’t end this year? What are the ramifications of saving the witch of winter? Is that why it was t-shirt weather yesterday, and there are snow flurries today? How did such a Pagan tradition infiltrate the catholic saturated nation of Poland?
The last question is easy to answer. Originally Poland was Pagan- like over a thousand years ago, but still, traditions die hard here, so it makes sense there may be some leftover- even some having a bit of a resurgence. But let’s go back eight years ago to the suburb of Zielonki to re-visit my first drowing….
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Summary: On the first day of spring, all the school children of Krakow take dolls they have made from hay or corn-stalks, and throw them down the river, sometimes even lighting them on fire. These Marzanna dolls, were born from a Pagan tradition, and its quite suprising that they live on in such a Catholic nation. But either way, Marzanna is sacrificed to end the winter, and welcome the spring. You can find out where the closest Marzanna Sacrifice is occuring to you by checking the local papers and schools. Above Photos: I went to the event in Zielonki, a suburb just outside of Krakow, on the first day of spring, to watch the local school children drown their witch.