Toss Her In! Why the Poles Drown Marzanna

drowning of Marzanna.
Polish villagers prepare to drown Marzanna.

Poles are so hardcore that they actually kill death…EVERY YEAR! This week marks the beginning of spring and the end of all that nasty, cold, winter weather…hopefully. Traditionally in Poland, this was the time for a Polish custom known as the drowning of Marzanna.

Who’s Marzanna, and why do the Poles want to drown her? You have to go back to ancient Slavic mythology to understand. In some legends, Marzanna is a goddess of death; in others, she is a demon who represents all the suffering of winter. Regardless of whether she is a goddess or a demon, she symbolizes death.

Today, winter is annoying, but we don’t necessarily associate it with death. In old Poland, however, it was a different story. If you hadn’t stored up enough food, got really sick or got snowed in, then you were in big trouble. Many people didn’t survive winters back then, not just in Poland, but everywhere.

So, when spring came, it was an even bigger deal than today. It meant you had survived. You had made it to a new year. Everything was being reborn, and the world was full of hope. Just one thing remained to be done: drown the one who was believed to have brought winter about in the first place—Marzanna (not to be confused with the deadly Rusałka).

Women would make a doll of Marzanna out of straw and rags and put a little dress and head scarf on her. Villagers would then stick the doll on a long pole and march in procession to a lake, river or pond where they would toss it into the water. They would then create a gaik, or a long tree branch decorated with flowers—this would symbolize spring and rebirth and was meant to replace Marzanna.

After drowning the doll and creating the gaik, the villagers would return to the village, but it was a journey filled with superstition. Marzanna was apparently ticked off about getting drowned and would try and “grab” villagers (Didn’t that defeat the purpose of the drowning? Just saying). So, if someone fell on the way home, it was believed they would die in the upcoming year.

This tradition goes back centuries—some believe as far back as the early middle ages. The earliest written mention dates back to the 1400s. It’s a little creepy, but interesting nonetheless. It really symbolizes the earthly cycle of death and rebirth. Each year, winter kills everything and spring brings it back to life. Although Marzanna drowns every year, she’ll always come back, and the cycle goes on and on…forever.

Here’s a modern drowning of Marzanna (Jump to 3:40 to get to the important part if you want;)