Speaking Polish – Piece of Cake
By Veronica Wojnaroski
The seasons of the year, pory roku
In this installment of Speaking Polish, we present the Polish ways of marking the passage of the seasons.
By far the most interesting name for a Polish season is Wiosna. The word Wiosna derives from the name of an ancient goddess in Slavic mythology, Vesna. Wiosna is the goddess of spring, morning, and the birth of every living thing. Each spring, Wiosna seduced the lightning god, Perun, ushering in an end to winter. Wiosna is portrayed as always smiling, beautiful, and barefoot. Her hair is long and adorned with flowers. Sometimes she holds an apple and some grapes, and sometimes she holds a swallow, a symbol of spring, on her right index finger. She carries a bouquet of flowers to symbolize marriage. It was said that she carried the smell of spring with her, and that all of spring’s scents are signs that she is passing by.
Wiosna had a twin sister, Morana, the goddess of night, winter, and death. In Polish, her name is Marzanna, from the word mara. We have the word zmora, which means associated with death. There was a wide-spread ritual, the burning or drowning of Marzanna in the form of a rag and straw doll. Marzanna’s ritual burning or drowning helped Wiosna, the spring, to come faster. There was no goddess for autumn, because Wiosna and Marzanna competed for control of the autumn weather.
Polish Slavs called Wiosna Devana, and gave her the added title of the goddess of fertility and sometimes, the goddess of the hunt. In other places, Wiosna was also known as Zhivana, Zhiva, Siva, Diva, Deva, Device and Danica.
From wiosna, we get the adjective wiosenny. Kanapki wiosenne are open faced sandwiches made from fresh cheese and sliced radishes, which appear in the spring, wiosną or na wiosnę.
The word Vesna means spring in some Slavic languages, including Ukrainian and Russian. It is also a popular female name in Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Slovenia.
Lato is the Polish word for summer. It is derived from the Proto Slavic *lěto, from the Proto Indo-European word for summer. It may stem from the name of the Slavic goddess of harmony, merriment, youth, love, beauty and sometimes summer. Lada was considered the mother of all gods. She was a symbol of beauty and order. Where she was, there was a feeling of warmth and comfort, a feeling of home.
The Polish word for years, lata, (plural, the singular is rok), probably derives from the same root. From this word, we have the old and charming custom of reckoning your age in summers. The question, “Ile masz lat?”, “How old are you?”, literally asks the question, “How many summers have you?”
Lato is known as gorąca pora roku, the hot season. In the summer, latem or w lecie, you eat chłodnik, zupa na lato, a summer soup. Chłodnik is a cold beet soup, which also contains cucumber, hard-cooked egg, fresh dill, green onions, buttermilk and sour cream and sometimes, cold, boiled potatoes. The Polish version of Indian Summer is called babie lato, the old woman summer. It also means the small spider webs which cover vegetation at that time of year. In the source of this phrase, there may have been confusion from the German weben, to weave (here a cobweb) and weib, woman. In medieval times, spiders and their webs were associated with witches.
Some version of lato is used for the word summer in Ukrainian, Slovak, Russian, Czech. Slovenian, while Slovenian uses leto only for years. Poletje is used to mean summer.
Jesień is an old word of Proto Indo European origin, eeson, which means harvest. Jesień means autumn in various Slavic languages, including Polish, Ukrainian, Slovak, Russian, Czech, and Slovenian. Jesienią or na jesieni are the ways to say in the autumn in Polish. The colors of autumn are barwy jesieni or kolory jesieni.
The barwy jesieni are on full display during the Golden Polish Autumn, Złota Polska Jesień. This is a time in Poland during September, when the weather is still warm, but the forests and parks are ablaze with the reds, yellows and oranges of autumn, and the rains are less frequent than in summer. It is a time of plenty. This season takes its name from the poem, In the Autumn, Na Jesieni, by Polish poet Wincenty Pol. (See http://inside-poland.com/t/onpolands-harvest-festivals-and-the-golden-polish-autumn/ for the poem and its English translation.) This is also the time of the harvest festivals, the dożynki, which David Motak wrote about in the Winter/Spring 2015 issue of the Polish Journal.
Interestingly, the verb in Polish which means to harvest is not derived from Jesień. Instead, the verb is zbierać, which means both to harvest and to collect. Harvest time is żniwa, and the crops are zbiory.
Zima is also an old word which comes from a Proto Indo European root. It has traveled, largely unchanged, into the languages of Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Belarusse, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, and even Persia (Farsi). Everywhere, it is used to mean both winter and cold.
The adjectives zimowy and zimny derive from zima. They mean wintry or cold. Zima is the cold season, pora zimowa. Zimno is the adverbial form. In Polish, to say that you are cold is Jest mi zimno: It’s cold to me. When your feet are cold, you say Zimno mi w nogi. We also have the verb, zimować, which means to hibernate, or to winter over, which can be used for animals, insects and plants. Zimna wojna was the Cold War, and zimowisko is a winter camp. The Czechs have named the winter honeysuckle zimolez, from zima and lézt, to climb; so, it is a winter climbing vine.
The coldest (najzimniejszy) place in Poland is the Suwałki region, the northeastern corner. During winter nights, the temperature often falls below -13° F (-25° C). In Suwałki, snow remains for the longest period among Polish municipalities, for more than 100 days. Suwałki is called the Polish North Pole, because it has the lowest average temperature in the whole of Poland, with the exception of mountain resorts.
The beverage ZIMA came to the United States in 1993. It was a fizzy, low-alcohol beverage made by Coors Brewing as an alternative to beer. (It disappeared in 2008.) The marketers thought that the association of the product with cold Russian vodka would help to sell the product.
(This article first appeared in the POLISH JOURNEY – Newsletter of the Polish Cultural Council – Vol. 14 – Spring 2016)
Reprinted with permission from Polish Cultural Council