Unlike the Balkan Slavs and the Russians, the Poles, as well as the other Western Slavs, do not possess epic-narrative songs. Therefore, the Poles lack a popular-poetic interpretation of their past. Rather numerous in the Polish countryside, and still vital, are the ritual songs (pie ś ni obrz ę dowe), some of which, namely the wedding songs (weselne), the Christmas and New Year songs (kol ę dy from the Latin calendae), the Easter songs (wielkanocne) and the harvest songs (do ż ynki, wieniec) have a very archaic aspect: both in the words and in the melodies. Almost all the ritual songs, coming in part from ecclesiastical circles, are distinguished by their sincere and naive religiosity. But in Poland there are also songs independent of the recurring rhythm of the year and of life, and they are called common songs (powszechne), because anyone can sing them and on any occasion. Among these, love songs prevail, rarely sentimental, more often foul-mouthed; ballads (for example, the famous and ancient Pani pana zabi ł a “The Lady Killed the Lord”, which inspired Mickiewicz and Lenartowicz), comic songs and dance songs. Finally, there are songs belonging to some professions or classes, songs of soldiers, of raftsmen (flisackie), of beggars (dziadowskie). The most interesting are the latter; wandering beggars sing versified legends of a religious nature and short historical poems (eg, The Victory of Vienna) at fairs and indulgent feasts. There was in them a germ, which could not develop, of epic poetry.
In general, even in prose folk tales, the scarcity of historical themes is surprising. The wars with the Swedes and the Turks and, among the individual figures, Boleslao Chrobry, Casimir the Great and Sobieski constitute, more or less, the historical heritage of the people, as it appears from his stories. Of course, fables and fairy tales dating back to written sources as well as elsewhere are more widespread; among the main ones are also in Poland the Gesta Romanorum.
According to ebizdir, among the various – but not numerous – theatrical manifestations of the Polish people, we note the szopka (from the Middle High German Schopf, today Schuppen), a small portable puppet theater, representing the crib. It appears to have been greatly perfected in the territory of Krakow, but it is also widespread throughout the central and western area of Poland.
Among the other popular arts, the pictorial ornamentation of the village huts (chata) should be mentioned first of all: an ornament that embellishes both the outside and the inside of these houses. Here we distinguish the surroundings of Nowy Sącz in Lesser Poland and Lowicz. The motifs, monochromatic and polychromatic, are prevalently of a geometric type, but not infrequently, however, there are also floral ornaments (see fig. On p. 764). In some regions these paintings indicate that marriageable girls are in the ornate houses. The interior of the huts is often decorated with scraps (Wycinanki) of white or colored paper applied to the walls. Especially delicious are the wycinankiof Lowicz and the Kurpi, but also the peasants of Lublin, Piotrków and of Lesser Poland show, in this kind of ornamentation, a lively artistic sense. In some regions, and particularly in Podhale (the northern side of the Tatras, south of Krakow), the people use to paint scenes from the New Testament or from the life of the famous bandit Janosik on the glass. Artistic predilections also reveal, in almost the whole Polish territory, furniture and household utensils – now painted, like the crates around Krakow, now inlaid, like the spoons and spools for spinning in the Zakopane region.
Folk costumes are picturesque in some areas, especially women’s and men’s shirts (in Łowicz, Nowy Sącz and elsewhere) adorned with often colorful embroidery (see fig. On p. 766). Also famous are the Polish carpets (kilimy) and wall hangings, the manufacture of which is more widespread in the oriental areas, ethnographically mixed, than in the purely Polish ones.
In popular music the pentatonic melodies (for example, the wedding song of hops in Kalisz) should be noted, which due to their similarity to some fragments of Gregorian chant perhaps date back to the ancient monodies of the Roman church. More interesting and more popular are the melodies of Podhale which are also found throughout that wide Carpathian area, where the primitive pastoral culture once dominated and partly still dominates. Among the various Polish dances, some are universally known: so the three types of mazurka (measure 3 / 4 or 3 / 8) the Kujawiak, the Mazur and l ‘ oberek (or Obertas), which are distinguished from each other by their particular accent and rhythm. The Polonaise, as it is known to the West, is a dance of the nobility; the people know a similar, slower dance, called Chodzony “march” or simply Polski “Polish”.
The oldest of the polonaise is the Krakow (Krakowiak) in 2 / 4.
Popular beliefs and uses. – The puerpera is surrounded by special treatments that have the character of propitiatory magic. Different objects, iron, broom, comb, etc., are placed around the bed to protect herself and the baby from evil spirits. The purgation of the mother, considered impure during the puerperium, is usually carried out in the church (wywód); it is followed by a banquet at the expense of the godfather or godmother. Also for the child there are many precautions: weaning him at the time of the departure of the birds would be dangerous, since he could transform into latawiec (flying spirit); better to wait for the full moon for it to grow plump, or for the new moon for it to become beautiful. Of the ancient ritual of hair cutting (postrzy żyny), described in the Chronicle of the Anonymous Gallus, only few traces remain among the Poles, for example, the belief that, by cutting the hair ahead of time, the child can lose his speech or become a hunchback. Marriage is preceded by cautious and ceremonious approaches; obtained a favorable response to very indirect questions, the matchmaker offers the wódka (brandy) to the parents and the girl. On the eve of the wedding, the ceremonies and wedding celebrations that once participated in the whole village begin and which are now reduced, with variations from region to region, to some main moments: the bride’s companions weave wreaths and adorn – usually with apples (symbol of fecundity) – the nuptial branch (rozgowiny); relatives undo her braids; the next day the groom’s companions come to take the bride who, reluctantly, agrees to follow them; then they take her back, after the ceremony in the church, to her home, where they spend the whole day feasting, singing and dancing. The following day the bride, always accompanied by the wedding company, moves into the groom’s house with all her dowry and is welcomed there, with bread and salt, by the in-laws. With another day of music, songs and dances – propitiators of joy – the celebrations come to an end. A special ceremonial is connected not only with burial, but also with death, which has the purpose of facilitating the passing of the dying person and preventing the dead from feeling induced to return to life.
The customs linked to the individual festivals of the year have already been partially mentioned. Particularly rich in magical rituals is the Christmas party. In the use of the Christmas tree, Poland presents this detail that is used to hang the choinka (fir) with the top down, adorning it with apples, walnuts and also with handmade ornaments (pod ł a ź niczka). On the fourth Sunday of Lent, and in some regions a little later, a straw puppet, called ś miertelna lalka (from ś mier ć”death”, because this is how winter is buried and spring is inaugurated); on Easter Monday the boys and girls of the villages water each other (ś migus, which at first indicates precisely the second Easter feast; from the German Schmeckostern); on the eve of St. John, small fires are lit and jumped over them (sobótka “Saturday, feast day”: a poetically stylized sobótka was described by the poet J. Kochanowski in the 16th century).