Pagan RootsIn every culture, where the winter is harsh and long, people eagerly await the arrival of spring and search for its signs. In Poland, the return of the beloved storks from warmer climates is one such sign and precipitates preparations for the Drowning of Marzanna (topienie Marzanny), also known as the Frost Maiden and Winter Witch. This holdover from pagan times used to take place on the fourth Sunday of Lent, but these days takes place on the first day of spring -- March 21. It's a chance to symbolically "kill" or bury winter and welcome in spring, rebirth, new crops and the warmth of the sun.
The Marzanna, symbolizing winter, death, disease, starvation and all evil, is a braided straw female effigy dressed in white or local folk costumes, and adorned with beads (coral in the south of Poland and amber in central and northern Poland) and ribbons. In Silesia, she is dressed in a beautiful wedding dress with a wreath on her head. Some villagers still carry the Marzanna from house to house. Eventually, she is drowned in a river, pond, lake or simply a big bucket of water. Sometimes, before dousing her, the effigy is set on fire. As the marzanna is carried out of the village, others carry in green branches adorned with ribbons, beads and flowers representing spring. These days, however, the Drowning of Marzanna has become an excuse to party and for children to play hooky from school.
In the late 1990s, the Polish Department of Education declared March 21 a school holiday known as Truant's Day. While there are no regular classes, school activities are organized and students are allowed to wear masks, funny costumes and generally act silly.