Wianki Festival of Wreaths

Wianki Festival of Wreaths

Type of Holiday: Folkloric
Date of Observation: June 23
Where Celebrated: Washington DC
Symbols and Customs: Wreath
Related Holidays: Midsummer Day ORIGINS

The Wianki Festival of Wreaths (wianki means "wreath" in Polish) is observed by Polish-American young people in Washington DC on St. John's Eve, June 23. Girls make wreaths out of fresh greens, put a lit candle in the center, and set them afloat in the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Young men gather around the pool in the hope that the wind will blow their girlfriends' wreaths toward them.

The origins of this festival can be traced back to pagan times. For centuries in Poland it has been customary for girls to wear a garland of wildflowers on St. John's Eve, decorate it with ribbons, and fasten a lighted candle to the center. Then they throw their wreaths far out into a moving river or stream. If the wreath drifts to shore, it is taken as a sign that the girl will never marry; it if sinks, she will die within the year; if it floats downstream, she will definitely be married. According to superstition, the boy who catches a wreath will marry the girl to whom it belongs. So the boys hide in boats along the river banks and try to capture their sweethearts' garlands. At the end of the festival, the boys take the girls upstream in their boats.

A very similar festival took place in pre-Revolutionary Russia. Known as Semik- meaning "seventh," because it was held on the seventh Thursday after EASTER- it involved young girls throwing wreaths into the water or hanging them on trees as an offering to the god of the woods. The fate of the wreath was regarded as evidence of the young girl's fate.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Wreath

The myrtle wreath is traditionally considered to be the symbol of a bride, and the wreath in general has been used to symbolize immortality, victory, and mourning. The wreaths that young Polish and Polish-American girls set afloat on the water can therefore be seen as symbolic of the several different paths their lives may take: They may die within the year, they may marry, etc.

FURTHER READING

Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Olderr, Steven. Symbolism: A Comprehensive Dictionary. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1986. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990.

WEB SITE

Polish-American Arts Association www.paaa.us

Wianki Festival of Wreaths

June 23
On St. John's Eve in Poland, young girls traditionally perform a ritual that can be traced back to pagan times. They weave garlands out of wild flowers, put a lit candle in the center, and set them afloat in the nearest stream. If the wreath drifts to shore, it means that the girl will never marry, but if it floats downstream, she will find a husband. If the wreath should sink, it means that the girl will die before the year is out. Since the boy who finds a wreath, according to the superstition, is destined to marry the girl who made it, boys hide in boats along the riverbanks and try to catch their girlfriends' wreaths as they float by.
A variation on this custom, known as the Wianki Festival of Wreaths ( wianki means "wreath" in Polish), is observed by Polish Americans in Washington, D.C., on this same day every year. The wreaths are made out of fresh greens, the candles are lit at twilight, and they're set afloat in the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Because there is no current, the wreaths don't drift much at all. But young men gather around the pool anyway, in the hope that the wind will blow their girlfriends' wreaths toward them.
See also Midsummer Day and Semik
CONTACTS:
City of Krakow
ul. Szpitalna 25
Krakow, Poland
48-12-432-0110; fax: 48-12-432-0062
www.krakow.pl/en/?chl=EN
Polish-American Arts Association
P.O. Box 9442
Washington, DC 20016
www.paaa.us
SOURCES:
BkFest-1937, p. 263