The Feast of St. Andrew or, Wait, are Poles Pagans?

The Feast of St. Andrew falls on the last day of November. Perhaps best known in the United States as the patron saint of Scotland, the feast, known as Dzień Świętego Andrzeja in Polish, is preceded by a night of festivities on the night of the 29th known as Andrzejki. It is the last occasion to organize sumptuous parties before the Advent. And, as you can guess, since Poles are involved, it is quite a party involving food, drink, dancing and magic. We’ll focus on the traditional take of the feast since no one needs much explanation of “partying.”

Traditionally, the holiday was celebrated by single girls, and boys had Katarzynki, celebrated on the night of the 24th of November. The night was filled with magic, divination and witchcraft mostly meant to help a young girl find her future husband. Initially, it was celebrated individually as it was taken very seriously. More recently, it has grown to be a fun tradition and the magic is thankfully not seen as binding.

The most well known tradition is the pouring of hot wax from a candle through a key head (remember those really old giant keys? yea, those) into a basin of water. Once the wax cools, it solidifies and you can pick it up, and try to guess what the wax is based on the shadow it casts on a wall. The old tradition said you could divine the profession of your future husband but if one saw an angel, it meant good luck, an eagle meant reaching your goals, a heart great love. These days, the interpretation is even more open, for example: “I’m telling you that wax looked like a new Mercedes”.

wikimedia commons
wikimedia commons

Another tradition had young women take off their left shoes and put them in line one after the other from the farthest wall to the door. The lucky girl whose shoe first reached the door would be the first one to get married.

A number of lesser known traditions also abounded. Young girls would write down names of boys on pieces of paper and put them under their pillow. In the morning, they would pull out the name of their future husband. Listening to a dog bark would let the girl know from which side her husband would arrive. The abundance of dogs and their affinity for barking could probably make this a confusing and highly imprecise art, but, it was something. Dogs would also be used for other divination attempts: they would be thrown dough balls each meaning specific boys. Whichever the dog would eat first… you get the picture. A group of girls would bake cakes, smother them with grease, put them on a table and invite a dog as a judge. Whichever cake he would eat first belonged to the girl who would get married first. Geese did not escape these divinations: a blindfolded gander would stand in the middle of a group of girls that formed a circle around him. The girl he would approach or bite first would be the first to…, right, you know what.

wikimedia commons
wikimedia commons

A number of sayings and proverbs are also associated with the feast:

Na Świętego Andrzeja dziewkom z wróżby nadzieja – Saint Andrew’s Day gives girls hope in divination
Święty Andrzej wróży szczęście i szybkie zamęście – Saint Andrew bodes luck and fast marriage.
Gdy Święty Andrzej ze śniegiem przybieży, sto dni śnieg na polu leży – When Saint Andrew arrives with snow, it will lie on the field for a hundred days.

So what is it about Saint Andrew’s Day and fortunetelling? Like with many Polish traditions, its roots go to pre-Christian pagans. The time of year with its changing seasons was seen as especially magical and powerful allowing for contact with the spiritual world. As Saint Andrew’s Day precedes the beginning of Advent, the Christian time of reflection and spiritual contact with God, it was seen as fitting. Although those early Christianizers probably did not envision the pagan tradition surviving for so long.,andrzejki,andrzejki

These days, the pouring of wax and shoe-walking is still celebrated along with a lot of music, dancing, food and drink with friends and family. It is the last big party before Christmas, so take advantage of it, grab some wax and perhaps learn something about your future.