In Poland, St. Andrew’s day (Andrzejki) is a common name for a big holiday and fortune-telling ritual celebrated every 29th of November according to the Catholic calendar.
For centuries, every year on Saint Andrew’s Day (Andrzejki), young Polish girls would gather and engage in a rite, whose purpose is fun, socialization, and discovering the future!
And what was every girl in rural Poland mostly concerned about? When is she going to marry and who will be the husband, of course.
Today, we have other popular alternatives for telling the future like horoscopes or tarot. Centuries ago, Polish people had none of those but were as curious as we are today, about the future.
Let’s consider the original and modern ways of celebrating this holiday, and find out how young girls in Poland predicted the future.
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Andrzejki: Witchcraft or a Party?
You will find different variations of this custom in traditions of many different countries (Scotland or Greece, for example). Still, it is nowhere as important as it is in Poland. So, what’s it all about?
Girls would gather with their friends on the night of the 29th of November. This is the last day before the beginning of Nativity Fast, making it the last opportunity for dancing, drinking and having fun while playing fortune-telling games.
An already married woman (or a widow) would be invited, in order to help the girls with the ritual.
This woman should light many candles in order to invite St. Andrew and ancient spirits in.
Then, in presence of the spirit, the ritual could continue to the next phase. Girls usually brought the following equipment to the table: some cold water, hot wax, a candle, and a key whose bow has a gap in the middle.
What will they do with these? They will melt the wax, carefully pour it through the hole of the key bow, and let it drop in the cold water. As the hot wax drops, it cools and hardens, forming a peculiar wax figure.
The girls will then take this figure out of the water and put it next to some light. According to the tradition, it’s the shadow of the wax figure that will tell the girl something about her future husband. It will be either in the shape of his face or will show the first letter of his name.
Instead of the key, it was possible to use a horseshoe or a woven straw. Also, back in the old days, a melted lead was used to replace the wax .
Was It Always This Carefree?
Today we might perceive this ritual as fun, but it wasn’t always like that.
Andrzejki ritual has a non-Christian background and is tightly connected to the pagan calendar and yearly rites.
Therefore, women who were performing this ritual in the middle ages could easily get a severe punishment or even a death sentence by the Chirstian church authorities.
Still, the Andrzejki tradition managed to survive which tells a lot about how important it was to the Polish people.
Shoes Predicting the Future
The wax can tell who is the person a girl will get married to, but it doesn’t predict when. That is why, once all the girls had their turn with the wax and the key, they often engaged in the so-called shoe race.
All of them had to take off their shoes. The first girl needs to put her shoe somewhere in the room, as far from the front door as possible. The next girl needs to put her shoe right in front of the previous one, pointing towards the door.
These shoes should form a line. Many times, that line roamed throughout the room, as some girls were willing to marry soon, while others perhaps not so much, so they avoided heading towards the front door.
The one whose shoe reaches the front door first is believed to be the one who is the next to get married.
Symbolically, this means that the race between the future brides comes to an end, as the one whose shoe first managed to cross the threshold is the one who is getting out of her house soon. Of course, after leaving her house she is going to live with her husband .
A Name Card
This is another variant of the custom, particularly suitable for girls who already have some idea of who they would like to marry.
Namely, on the cold November night of st. Andrew’s eve, a girl would take a piece of paper and, after thinking of all the available options for her future husband, she would write down their names. For this occasion, she usually uses a paper shaped like a heart.
The girl would then turn the paper around, take a needle and randomly pierce through it. She would then look back at the side of the paper with the names, and see whose name is closest to the needle. After that, she’ll know the name of her future husband!
There are also other variations of Andrzejki tradition Polish teenagers used to perform every year in order to tell the future of their love relationships.
People believed that this old fortune-telling technique worked on st. Andrew’s day as well: If a girl peeled an apple and then threw the skin parts behind her back, the pieces would form a letter (probably). In case they do, this letter was the initial of her future husband’s name.
Another popular Polish belief says that before going to bed on the 29th of November (before St. Andrew’s day) a girl should write the name of each potential (or desired) future groom on a different piece of paper.
She should then put these papers under her pillow, sleep and then randomly pull one in the morning. Of course, you guessed it – that is the name of the man she is going to get married to!
Sometimes, the ritual involved pets as well. For example, each of the participants placed a bowl of food for a dog or a cat. The owner of the first bowl the animal approaches is the next to get married.
On Andrzejki day, even dogs and cats could predict the future!
We have records of Andrzejki being celebrated by young people in Poland since the 16th century. Who knows how long the tradition existed before it was registered for the first time.
Since the beginnings of this old Polish tradition, a lot has changed. Young people are different, and their popular culture needs to find new ways to incorporate ancient heritage.
According to the Polish customs and traditions, back in the old times, only girls could gather and predict the future on Andrzejki day.
Boys Also Have the Right to Magic!
However, as old gender roles changed and today’s boys and girls aren’t that different as they used to be, boys gradually got access to this love ritual.
Originally, a few days before Andrzejki there was another holiday reserved for man’s love divinations. It was Katarzyna or Eve of St. Catherine, which was once fond of helping boys know their marital fortune.
However, in time, Andrzejki overtook the fame of this less known holiday, and today both boys and young women participate in the celebration (although they seldom mix).
Just like young women, Polish boys gather with friends on the night of 29th and on St Andrew’s day on 30th of November. They also use hot wax and shoe-race on that day, in order to know who their future wife will be.
Also, the modern Andrzejki celebrations took a new form. On that day, there are big parties all around Poland. Today, people gather primarily to party and have fun .
They want to see their friends, and perhaps meet their future spouse, instead of guessing who that might be.
The water is now mostly poured in whiskey, and the old keys are kept at home, as a memory of old traditions.
One thing is certain: some young men and women will always gather on st. Andrew’s eve.
The Bottom Line
For the last five centuries, the 30th of November was one of the most highly anticipated holidays of the calendar year. Andrzejki is a big celebration in Poland.
St. Andrew’s day is not only a holiday, it is a tradition. This is not just a magic ritual, but a party at the same time.
All across Poland, Andrzejki takes part in November, a time of rains and late autumn cold. Therefore, staying in with friends and drinking some good beverages, while trying to peek into the future, will always be a good choice!
It is a celebration of youth and love, a night when saint Andrew and spirits share their wisdom with young women and men, who are ready to take the plunge into the unknown.
However, today, a lot has changed, but the essence of this event stayed the same. For centuries, Polish people gathered on this popular holiday to party, share food, and good humor.
Love was and stayed the main source of curiosity and therefore a big inspiration behind this celebration.