Predicting Your Future Husband: The Polish Tradition of Andrzejki
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small, Andrzejki fortune-telling rituals, photo: Adam Stępień / East News, wrozby_andrzejkowe.jpg
Ever seen young Poles suddenly gathering to pour wax through old keys at a party? Or children at a Polish kindergarten all caught up in lining up their shoes in a strange race to reach the front door? Then you've seen modern versions of very old pagan traditions. Rituals of fortune-telling have evolved into an occasion to celebrate the joys of youth and love – whether you're 5 or going on 25.
The name Andrzejki (an-jay-key) comes from Andrzej, also known as Saint Andrew, and is celebrated on the eve of the saint's holiday, 29th November, just before Advent and the approaching winter. Traditionally, the holidays of the winter season were considered to be when our ancestral spirits returned to Earth, enabling us to call upon them to intervene in various magical rituals. Slavic traditions about the spirits of the forefathers are well known throughout Polish literature – most notably the national poetic drama Forefathers' Eve by Adam Mickiewicz. Similar folklore is also known to have existed throughout Northern and Central Europe.
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Today, the celebration of Andrzejki has taken on new, more gender-neutral – and definitely more social – forms. Now the holiday is a light-hearted celebration of youth and the prospect of love in the form of fun and games. Typically, the fortune telling is played out in the form of elaborate games for kids by both girls and boys. All kinds of fortune telling – traditional as well as types known through popular culture – can be part of the fun.
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For slightly older youngsters, those old enough for drinking and dancing, parties are held in nightclubs – although perhaps they are not all that different from the more general celebrations young people like to get up to, which occur at every opportunity. However, to make sure the party counts as Andrzejki, wax melting and the ensuing fanciful speculation about the future is definitely featured during the evening.
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This most characteristic Andrzejki ritual consists of heating wax and then dropping it into cold water – preferably through the hole of an old skeleton key. The resulting lumps are then held up into the light, producing a shadow that demands careful examination. Here, only the imagination sets the boundaries, and all kinds of predictions for the future can be made. More competitive is the bizarre race towards the front door, which involves participants taking off their shoes and then moving as fast as possible while lining their footwear up tip-to-toe one after another. They meander all over the place, but the first racer to cross the threshold is, of course, the first to get married.
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The fortune-telling comes in many forms – some of which might be familiar to people from other parts of the world as well. Some practices are known only in certain regions, and many are all but forgotten. Still, quite a few remain. For example, names of eligible boys could be written on pieces of paper, kept under a pillow during this magical night. In the morning, one note is picked at random, thus revealing the name of the husband-to-be. Another popular method involves peeling an apple and throwing the long peel behind your back. The shape of the peel will give a hint of the future husband's name – but if no letter can be made out of the mess, it means you are probably not going to be married any time soon.
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Author: Gabriel Stille, 29/11/2013