Straw tractors begin new village tradition

Near Piaski, a village near Pszczyna in Upper Silesia, straw tractors along Highway 1 have attracted curious glances from passers-by, the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reports. Last Sunday, Piaski held a Harvest Festival (called “dozynki” in Polish). The straw “folk art” was a personal village touch to the festival tradition.

“We wanted it to be a nice accent of harvest time.” said Iwona Pinocy of the Country Hostess Circle of Piaski. Villagers prepared for the festival by cleaning, cooking regional recipes and decorating the village. While most villages look similar, each incorporates slight regional differences according to their customs. Piaski’s inhabitants wanted to start a new custom, so they built huge tractors made entirely of straw bunches and sheaves.

Each tractor, almost six meters high, took several hours to build. But it was worth it, the villagers said, delighted with the spectacular result. Poland’s nationwide Harvest Festival is the biggest annual farming holiday, celebrated as a crowning achievement of the farmers’ labor and held only after the season’s fieldwork and crop gathering is finished. The Harvest Festival has been celebrated in Poland since as far back as the 16th Century, when landowners would organize the festival in gratitude for their field laborers’ hard work. The celebrations were filled with dancing and eating. When the festival began, traditionally on or around August 15, a crown of straw was placed on the head of a village girl.

The mayor would place a rooster on top of the crown, and the girl would lead villagers and musicians through the fields. If the rooster crowed, it was considered good luck and the future year would be good; if the rooster refused to eat, it was regarded as a bad omen and prospects for a good winter were bleak. August 15 also marks a Christian holiday, the Feast of the Assumption (the Virgin Mary?s ascent to heaven), which is celebrated with the Harvest Festival. Reapers traditionally prepared wreaths of grain, nuts and corn that they presented to the owners of the estates where the wheat was grown. The harvesters were invited inside for a feast, which was followed by dancing. The holiday always included attending church, where the wreaths were blessed at mass.

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