Monday, June 28, 2010


I grew up celebrating Wianki; the Festival of Wreaths. Every summer solstice, Polish people gather, dance, eat, and create beautiful flowered wreaths. Candles are placed on the wreaths, the wreaths are placed on water, sent to sail. I've heard different stories about the meaning and origin of the ceremony; my favorite that maidens would send out their unique wreaths out onto the nearest lake, and the man who found their wreath across the river could claim their hand in marriage. But it is an amazing ritual of beauty, creation, and release-- mimicking the extravagance of the season we now find ourselves in.

I celebrated it once with some beloved friends at a lake in Canada (photo above). We picked wildflowers, read some prayers, sent out our wreaths onto a still and majestic sunset. And I hope my children will grow up with memories of their own wianki, which brings me to Saturday night.

We loaded the car with our children and picnic blankets, headed into the city for the highly anticipated night. We found our way to the spot where Polish people in this area celebrate wianki, a reflecting pool right at the foot of the capitol.

But as we parked our car and got out, we were astonished to find that the basin had been drained-- bone dry, with some mud at the bottom, but not a drop of water.

And I know I'm an adult, I shouldn't let such things get to me. As you can tell, the kids didn't seem to mind one bit. But where was the water? How could we set our wreaths sailing in a dry basin? Ben and I laughed out loud. There were people, wreaths, beautiful traditional polish costumes and dancing, but no water.

My unease lingered. And only with time did I realize the meaning of the whole thing. Because how can you set anything to sail without deep, ample water? How often has my own spirit been bone-dry, parched, empty? Longing for living water and yet trying to set hopes and ideas to sail in vain?

I certainly hope to have many memorable wiankis-- beautiful ceremonies with song, dance, magnificent sunsets, and beautifully lit wreaths. But I also hope I will remember this one. The dry basin, our beautiful wreaths, and a thirst for water.


Kerry said...

Adele, I have chills. What a beautiful and meaningful experience. What a gift and a lesson you found. I've never heard of Wianki and am glad to learn more. It sounds like a wonderful celebration. Thank you for sharing your tradition and lesson.

Justine said...

I love seeing how others celebrate their own cultural traditions, and this post especially for the meaning you found in both the celebration and the symbolisms that came from a kink to the ritual that goes with it.

Angela said...

This is so beautiful- I've heard of Wianki- but never celebrated it- even though we are polish our experience of it was mostly just whatever bits my parents really liked- Dancing- food- certain christmas traditions- You've inspired me to look more into the traditions I've missed- thanks

Lauren Oliver said...

I thought that photo looked familiar- I'm so glad you have such warm memories of that night in Canada, like I do. I hope we all someday have a reunion on some beautiful lake somewhere...

I'm reminded of a "dry" spell in my own spirituality, one of many, where I remember reading God knows what part of the Bible- definitely Old Testament- in which God explained (forgive the rough paraphrase) how, obviously, the river had to be drained dry- and you had to go through that dryness- so that you could cross and reach the other side (without drowning), and realize how far you had traveled and where you now stood. ...Was it the River Jordan? Help, Miss Master's-from-Harvard Divinity! O;P