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EASTER FEASTS IN POLAND.
In almost every age and language, high encomiums and proverbial honours have been bestowed upon Polish hospitality. The country, which of all others, could least afford to give, has given most both to friend and foe; and got nothing in return, save deadly hate from her enemies, and lukewarmness, still deadlier, from her friends. fusus, alieni non appetens, seems to have been the favourite motto of every Pole, both in prosperity and depression. No readier tools of tyranny can there be found now in Poland than the degenerate swarms of “the sons of Israel,” and yet this, their adopted and cherished country, par excellence, used to be called by them “ the Paradise of the Jews." “ The Granary of Europe” was another of her proud titles acknowledged by the general consent of hungry and needy nations. Yet nearly all of them combined, either by active interference or supine contumacy, to shut her stores, and deliver the key into the hands of the most uncompromising foe to free-trade and commercial intercourse. The Poles saved Christendom under the walls of Vienna. But a century later, none of the Christian nations came forward to support their single-handed struggle—none helped them to save their own capital. Sic vos non vobis.
Poland has been enriched by nature with every produce requisite for the comfort, or conducive to the pleasure of its inhabitants. Like Attica, it has its Hymettus and its Pentelicon; scented regions running with honey, and mountains rooted in marble. It possesses materials to minister to the joy of the flitting hours, and to build for ages--to enrich and enliven the feasts of heroes with the sparkling mead, and to embody their glory in monumental stone. Few and scanty are the records of feasting in Greece, or of that conviviat excitement which pervades the Anacreontic strain ; but the Odeon and the Propylea, the Erectheum and the Parthenon, continue still to be unrivalled models for modern art. Not so in Poland. Continual and devastating wars, unparalleled trials and misfortunes, have left her no monument, from the top of which “ ten centuries” of her glory might look upon and comfort her sons in adversity. But on the other hand, in no other country has feasting assumed such brilliant, poetical, and traditionally venerable shapes and uses.
In the attachment to the minute duties of hospitality, in the absorbing attention and care paid to the evanescent joys of the hour, a shallow observer would descry, perhaps, the neglect of, and the inability to achieve the higher purposes of a great nation. But feasting in Poland forms part and parcel of the ancient spirit of that republic. The houses of the Magnates had been at all times the best schools of politics; their boards the fittest place for discussing important objects of state policy, and the vitrum gloriosum freely circulating from one hand to another, from the highest dignitary to the poorest nobleman, who could only claim a sword and a charger as his own, was most potent in asserting that perfect equality, in which Poles ever took an especial pride, as a brilliant set-off to the feudal distinctions prevalent amongst their neighbours. Surely they would have never suffered, not for one instant, the arbitrary measures of that English monarch who imposed the tax of Four Marks, pro licentia commedendi ; or of the King of Yvetot, who, sur chaque muid levait un pot d'impot. The liberty of congregating at convivial boards had originated and grown up with the free institutions of Poland; and there is as much difference between her healthy and vigorous state under the dynasty of the Piasts, and the hectic sickliness of the later times, as between the princely banquet given by a simple citizen of Cracow, Wierzynek, to the Emperor, the King of Poland, Casimir the Great, and the Kings of Hungary, Denmark, and Cyprus (one crowned guest more, be it remarked by ihe way, than the number of monarchs entertained in Cheapside by Henry Picard, the Mayor of London, ten years afterwards), and the feasts provided in the last century by that eccentric nobleman, who used to terrify his guests by introducing as attendants at banquets a retinue of twelve trained bears.
In conformity with this general disposition, the Poles have been uniformly distinguished for a strict observance of the solemn festivities which sprung up in the earliest days of Christianity. The origin of such feasts may be traced in the history of every country. In Britain the Druids were wont to officiate at the feasts, which followed the ceremony of pruning the all-healing misletoe.” The Saxon Pagans used also to hold sacred festivities, and Pope Gregory enjoined especially his missionary Augustin to convert these solemn rites, at which victims were sacrificed, into Christian entertainments, where the faithful would partake in common of the killed animals, in the name of God, “ Because," said he, “while you influence the moral of the people, you ought not to deny them a little of corporal enjoyment.” But nowhere, except in Poland, have such feasts been preserved in their pristine glory and undiminished splendour.
Foremost amongst these is, the Paschal, or the Easter repast. Fasting during Lent being rigidly observed, it is natural that the first partaking of animal food, after long days of abstinence, should combine the gravity of a religious solemnity, with the livelier task of exchanging mutual congratulations with friends and retainers. Thus, if ever, the number of guests becomes unusually great at that period, proportionally vast and skilful must be the preparations for the coming event. Hence the task of Polish hostesses during Passion Week is of no common magnitude. And as, when that event comes at last, banqueting goes round by turns, and the pressing host of to day becomes the pressed guest of the following morning, -ambition and rivalry give an additional impulse to their efforts, in order to outshine their emulous neighbours. As usual, rank and opulence will require or command provisions in ampler quantity, or of greater rarety, but skill in dressing them up, and taste in their display, will bear off the palm. The largest room or hall in the mansion being allotted to the purpose, a huge massive table is introduced, still oftener constructed on the spot from several ordinary ones. An immense linen cloth, commonly of Dutch origin, and preserved in families as an heir-loom from sire to son, or rather from mother to daughter, then makes its appearance. No sooner is it spread out, than the whole host of provisions pops in at the many doors and windows, and claims precedence and right of entry. Now time is come for the presiding genius, for the female Vaubans to
April.-VOL. LXX. NO. CCLXXX.
marshal forth all the resources of their art. A lofty tower, made of sugar or pastry, and clad in ivy green, stands foremost, and obtains the honour of occupying the centre of the table. The moment its structure is terminated, a trusty warder, in the shape of a roasted lamb, but still clothed in its primitive white vestment to mimic life, ascends the top, and unfurls a red silken banner, with the cheering emblem of resurrection, and the joyful motto “ Alleluja.” At a respectful distance, sundry magazines, well-stored with preserves, sugar-plums, fruit, and the like, mark out the circle of the innermost enclosure. Then follow the unbroken lines of pyramids of cold eggs, enveloped in the coils of long, serpent-like sausages, and represent the ordnance stores of the place. The first line of battlements consists in a wall of massive saffron cakes, glorying in their rotundity, fortified at the corners by towering babas, a sort of sponge-cake, distinguished from the menial tribe by its immoderate yearning after loftiness—a propensity which, if it often subjects it, in common with the destiny of other overweening aspirants, to premature bursting, gives it also as good and as valid a right as that of ihe rocket in the well-known Italian coat of arms, to assume the motto, “Creppi purche m’inalzi.” Intersecting arcades of tongues, dry and pickled fish, overvault the covered way between the first and the second line of fortifications, the latter being constructed with hams, joints, roast-pigs, and the stoutest pièces de resistance, in addition to the projecting bastions of silver and golden jugs, filled with oldest mead and choicest wine. And all this terminates in a glacis of Mazurkas (for Mazovia has had the honour to give its name both to a dance and to what is most welcome after it), the su. gar-coated, slippery surface of which bears divers devices and moral sentences, doubtless for the better edification and timely warning of the coming, and generally, too eager assailants.
Such is the tempting sight that every mansion in Poland presents on the eve of Easter. But the first herald, who comes to summon the stronghold to surrender, is not a warrior clad in steel, but a man of peace the parish priest. He comes to pronounce a solemn benediction on the feast, of which the faithful are going to partake “ in the name of God," and by sprinkling it with holy water, precludes the possibility, according to common belief, of its becoming fulsome or noxious to health, as it might easily prove after a long period of rigid abstinence. It must be added, however, that in this belief the Polish Vatels do not exactly participate, for it is a general habit with them to exempt their choicest and most delicate dishes from this ordeal, lest, by chance, the holy man should be carried too far by his zeal, and by giving a too copious swilling, should injure the external beauty of their pet performances. As in all temporals, a tithe of the good things he has thus consecrated, is awarded to him by traditional custom. But the most pleasing part of his office remains still to be told. By the time he has been performing his duty at the mansion of the landlord, the tenants and the peasants have congregated in the garden or the avenue, and with their baskets full of provisions given it the appearance of a regular market. The priest goes round with his sprinkler, and with a few drops of holy water, sends home many a pair as happy, perhaps much happier, than those who have been all this time looking from the massive balcony on the bustle and excitement of the scene below.
On Easter Sunday, after mass, the family and the guests having gathered round the boards of the entertainment, the host opens the business of the day, by cutting a cold egg into small thin slices ; and by turns, making up with his plate to every one of the company, exchanges usual congratulations, and ratifies them by eating one-half of a slice, whilst he offers the other half to his guest. After this ceremony, which must needs be performed respectively by every one with every one present, comes the general and promiscuous attack on the savoury ramparts of the table. But large as the muster of the assailants may be, prodigiously destructive as the “iron indignation" of the knives and forks against the walls of the stronghold may proveand although the appetites of the besieging party may reach that degree of voracity, which made Mecænas exclaim, “ Eight wild-boars roasted whole for a breakfast, and but twelve persons there! Is this possible?" it will require several days of repeated onset before the walls of the city are levelled to the ground. Indeed, with the more opulent houses, it is a common rule to keep the Easter Feast open until Whit Sunday; and this continual banquetting during seven whole weeks, may give some idea of the bulk of provisions supplied at that period, and the unbounded hospitality of Polish Amphitrions.
To those who are interested in such matters, or who may feel ambitious of introducing some novelty into the sumptuous monotony of the Lord Mayor's banquets, the following two instances of the prodigality of Apician art in Poland may prove both interesting and instructive :
“I was present yesterday,” says an old writer of Cracow, “ at the Easter Feast given by N. C., one of the magistrates of our town. On an immense table, covered with the finest cloth in the world, the circumference of which might have afforded comfortable seats for at least one hundred persons, twelve massive silver dishes bore the weight of salt pork, sucking-pigs, spiced sausages, and pyramids of eggs, painted in varied colours and devices, but chiefly in red. A group of figures made of pastry and sugar represented the action and the plot of a comic play. Pilatus, for instance, was exhibited in the act of picking Mahomet's pocket of a sausage,-evidently an epigram, since every body knows that neither Jew nor Mahometan is allowed to eat pork. A lamb of great beauty occupied the centre of the table. I would have given all the riches and dainties I saw there for the eyes of that pet creature, for they were nothing less than two precious diamonds, each of a nut's size. I further remarked, large silver-gilt decanters and cruets with oil and vinegar. Four enormous pitchers, filled with old mead, stood amidst a host of golden cups. Silver plates, with preserves of all sorts of fruits, with which Providence has so bountifully enriched our country, formed another circle. Enamelled baskets contained musty bottles of choicest and rarest wines. But it is high time I should speak of the pastry, the cakes, and the tarts, the number and the names of which it were impossible to remember. The principal cake was at least four yards in circumference, and one in height. Different figures adorned its edge. The speaking images of the twelve Apostles were distinguished from others by their size. Judas, with his yellow, saffron-coloured mustaches, amused me most. The figure of
Jesus Christ, holding a superb banner, stood erect in the centre of the cake. Over our Saviour's head an angel, suspended by a wire scarcely perceptible, was seen directing his course towards Heaven, and dropping from his lips the following motto: Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluja.' Other cakes represented profane or mythological subjects. I was exceedingly pleased with one called • The Bath.' In a lake, filled with white mead, gold and silver fishes were seen swimming. Nymphs were freely bathing amongst them, whilst a malicious Cupid sat on the brim of the cake, and shot his darts at their sparkling eyes, which they vainly strove to conceal.”
An old almanac of the Duchy of Posen, from the begioning of the seventeenth century, contains the following description :
“ This year the Palatine S. gave a splendid Easter Feast at Dereczyn, at which a great number of Polish and Lithuanian lords attended. A lamb, seasoned with Pistachio plums and other costly spices, was placed in the centre of the table. But only the ladies, the senators, the first dignitaries of the crown, and the clergy, were admitted to partake of that delicate dish. On one side of the table, four colossal roasted wild-boars, and stuffed with pigs, sausages, and hams, were laid down and represented the seasons of the year. The cook exhibited the most masterly abilities in contriving to roast these huge animals entire. On the opposite side, twelve stags, with gilt antlers, and adorned with emblems of corresponding months, attracted general admiration. Smaller game, such as hares, rabbits, partridges, woodcocks, and pheasants, filled their capacious insides. The prodigiously large cakes, the circumference of which could only be measured by yards, were fifty-two in number, to answer that of the weeks in the year. Three hundred and sixty-five babas, in honour of as many days, hedged the whole, and closed the circle of the year. In addition to this, the same numbers and divisions were represented by four golden pitchers, filled with wine of King Batory's time; twelve silver ones with King Sigismundus' wine; fifty-two silver barrels with that of Cyprus, Spain, and Italy; three hundred and sixty-five hogsheads of Hungary; and lastly, a vat containing 8760 pints of mead, the number of hours in the annual revolution."
Several customs, that time has now obliterated, are mentioned in the old chronicles of Poland. The defaulter, for instance, who was not awake when merry peals at midnight announced and ushered in the Easter festivity, forfeited the right of partaking in the banquet. He that of his own accord abstained from attending the feast, was reputed a bad Christian. A French writer asserts that people of the higher class used only to taste every dish pro forma, leaving the remainder 10 attendants and domestics. But considering the Polish propensity to banquet in common, and forego all constraint and etiquette on occasions of great solemnity, this looks like one of the many libels, which foreigners are apt to indulge in. Children of the servants and the serfs were wont to come in fancy dresses, and deliver their congratulations in prose or poetry, in Latin or the vernacular, and prescriptive custom gave them the right of appropriating to themselves as much of the provisions as they could carry away. Again, some peculiar virtue and inAuence were attributed to each article
of the fare provided. Thus sausages were considered as a preservative against the venom of serpents,