‘Drowning of Marzanna’ is an old Polish tradition, performed at the beginning of Spring. (If you are just reaching for your phone to call Amnesty International, stop just right there.) Marzanna doesn’t feel, doesn’t speak or see. She is a doll made of hay, wood and scraps of materials. As a symbol of passing winter she is set on fire and thrown to a river, so she can take the Winter with her and carry it to the sea.
When I was a child we used to spend a whole day at school making Marzanna. Some of us were responsible for hands, others for legs, head and hair. Our effigy was always colourful, decorated with flowers and ribbons. The ritual of burning and drowning of Marzanna was done during a field trip to the nearest canal. There was something wonderful about the whole march through the town. People were cheering and some joined us in our celebrations.
In today’s Poland only very small children drown their Marzannas. That’s why I didn’t refuse when my sister invited me to Poznan to take part in ‘Marzanna funeral procession’. I haven’t done it for 20 odd years and the idea of feeling like a child again was very tempting.
The day was organised by Cafe Glosna, which is a new art cafe in the city centre. Here you can have a nice coffee or something stronger, buy books and some hand made accessories. The owners organise very unusual workshops and lectures, where you can learn how to carry your baby in a shawl or find out more about Eskimos.
We met on Saturday in the Cafe with the others involved. A colourful small crowd gathered around tables to make rattles. They used plastic bottles, dry beans and colourful paper. Everyone was welcome, so mothers came with their children who, fascinated, cut paper, painted cans and made a lot of noise.
The skeleton for Marzanna had been prepared in advance and a few girls attached legs, hands and head. Our doll wasn’t pretty (Marzannas usually aren’t), but she smiled sweetly and seemed happy she was finally going away.
The day was beautiful. Sun was shining , warming us all with its beautiful rays. The streets looked tidier and people happier. Even more so when they saw our small procession.
At the head of it a few people carried our Marzanna, followed by a Balkan orchestra (not originally from Balkan, but played beautiful music from the region) and, finally, two guys dressed as zombies carried a very sad snowman. Everyone who attended the workshop in the Cafe had their rattles with them and made one huge noise. Suddenly, there were hundreds of us. People came out of their houses and shops and many followed us to the Warta River.
Children were the most curious and fascinated by it all.
Poor Marzanna was set on fire at the River and thrown in to its depths to accompaniment of cheers, shouts and rattles.
The day finished with a nice picnic and then a short after party in Cafe Glosna.
Now, when I’m sitting in my flat in London, I’m looking outside my window and admire the geourgous sunshine, I am even more sure that the Winter is gone. It has disappear in Warta River and moved out with Marzanna. I just hope they won’t come back too soon.