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The Drowning of Marzanna Custom on Death Sunday in Poland


Marzanna Effigy in Krakow

Marzanna Effigy in Krakow

CC BY-NC magama.krakow
Marzanna is a pagan springtime festival in Poland that signals the end of winter. It usually takes place on the fourth Sunday of Lent. This old custom predates Christian rites, so Marzanna is not universally observed throughout Poland, but the “drowning” of Marzanna is still conducted as a way for Poles to stay in touch with their ancient heritage and have fun with superstitions and festive traditions.

Marzanna's Symbolism

Marzanna represents winter or death, and the Sunday on which the Marzanna celebrations take place is sometimes called Death Sunday. On this day a straw or rag effigy of Marzanna (also known as Morena or Death) is constructed, sometimes by school children. The effigy is imbued with the negative qualities of the long, cold winter.

The Burning and Drowning of Marzanna

Marzanna is set aflame, sometimes with herbs, and with her burning, springtime is beckoned to come. Then, for the bearers of the effigy to be rid of the death and illness that Marzanna represents, they throw her into a river or a lake to “drown” her. Some superstitions are associated with Marzanna's drowning – it's best to turn your back completely on the submerged effigy to complete the farewell to winter.

Related Winter Farewell Festivals

The drowning of Marzanna is associated with other pagan festivals such as Maslenitsa. During Maslenitsa, and effigy is also burned, though customs vary slightly depending upon the region it's being celebrated. For example, Maslenitsa precedes Lent in Russia, though it also acts as a momentous farewell to winter.

People in the Czech Republic and Slovakia also sometimes celebrate with the drowning of Morana or Marena.

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