The first day of spring and the tradition of melting Marzanna. What is worth knowing before we head to the river?

Pierwszy dzień wiosny

The first day of spring is a moment that many of us look forward to, although we realize that nature is not guided by the date on the calendar. In the past month, the average daily temperature is typical of pre-winter and thermal spring. However, something is about to change on the first day of calendar spring. Masses of warm air will arrive in Poland, meteorologists predict. Forecasts say that tomorrow thermometers will show up to a dozen degrees Celsius. Is it a good time to welcome spring with the ritual of melting Marzanna?

March 20 or 21? When is the first day of spring?

The answer to the question of when the first day of spring falls seems very simple: on March 21. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difference in definitions makes the question of how to start this time of year a bit more complicated. Calendar spring invariably begins on March 21. This is a symbolic date that does not necessarily coincide with weather conditions specific to this time of year. Astronomical spring, on the other hand, is associated with the equinox, which falls on March 20 or 21. This is when the length of the day becomes equal to the length of the night, and the Earth enters a new stage of the cycle. The year 2024 is a perfect example of the discrepancy between the two dates – the equinox falls today.

Melting of Marzanna – a ritual with a long tradition

The tradition of melting Marzanna has always been associated with the first day of calendar spring, dating back to Slavic roots and symbolizing the farewell of winter and the welcoming of spring. Marzanna, usually made of straw and dressed in old clothes, represents winter, cold, death and evil, which must be removed to allow the rebirth of life in spring. This rite, full of profound symbolism, was meant to ensure fertility and a good harvest, and by dunking the puppet in water – renewal and purity.

In the past, the custom of drowning Marzanna was a community ritual in which the entire village participated. The puppet was carried in procession by residents. It was often accompanied by other symbols of spring, such as green twigs. The procession would carry Marzanna outside the village limits, where it would be drowned in a river or lake and sometimes burned. This act was believed to symbolically “kill” winter, allowing spring to enter the world of people. Ritual was a living element of Slavic culture and spirituality, reflecting the cyclical nature and human existence. Despite attempts by the Christian church to eradicate pagan customs, the melting of Marzanna has survived the centuries, evolving and adapting to changing cultural and social conditions.

Marzanna has more than one name

Marzanna is the goddess of death and winter. Her name, deeply rooted in Slavic mythology, contains the stem mar- or mor-, meaning death. This semantics points to the universal nature of transformation, of leaving the old and preparing for the new. Marzanna makes room for Jaryla, the deity of fertility and spring. In Poland, depending on the region, the character was also called Mrozanna, Śmiercicha or Śmiertka. Interestingly, in some parts of Poland it takes on a male form and is called Marzaniok.

The ecological dimension of tradition

Nowadays, with environmental awareness on the rise, the traditional drowning of Marzanna in rivers and lakes is controversial. The practice, which involves throwing puppets made of various materials, such as plastic or metal, into rivers and lakes, can contribute to water pollution and harm ecosystems.

To make our farewell to winter environmentally friendly, it is advisable to create a Marzanna from natural, biodegradable materials. You can use sawdust, straw, bark, hay, twigs, leaves, resin, feathers, roots, grains, grasses, reeds, rushes, moss or cones for this purpose. Such materials decompose quickly without polluting the environment. Tying Marzanna with string will also be an excellent solution. After ceremonially tossing it into the water, we can take it out and place the individual pieces in the appropriate waste containers.

Let’s remember the environment

When deciding to participate in the ritual of melting Marzanna, it is worth remembering its impact on the environment. Creating an ecological puppet from natural materials is not only a step towards more responsible participation in this beautiful tradition, but also an opportunity to share knowledge on the subject. Feel free to download our pdf with instructions for preparing an eco-friendly Marzanna. It will help you create the puppet yourself, but also share your knowledge and engage others to participate in the ritual in a more balanced and conscious way.

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