If I were living in the UK, Easter would mean a bank holiday. This can mean a number of things, depending on your age and/or marital status. For people of my parents’ generation, it means staying home to avoid the crowds. For couples with young children, it means going somewhere for a ‘fun’ day out, which inevitably leads to said children developing sunstroke, falling off a piece of play equipment and bashing their head and/or eating too much ice cream and vomiting everywhere. For young singletons like me, it means going out on the razz, usually in beer gardens, and drinking your own body weight in alcohol, which inevitably leads to developing sunstroke, falling over and bashing your head and vomiting everywhere.
However, I live in Poland where Easter is a far more sombre affair. Considered the holiest event of the year, it means going to church to have a basket blessed, shops and restaurants closing early on Good Friday, going to church for mass, eating Easter breakfast with the whole family, going to church for mass again, the dreaded Śmigus Dyngus, when no woman is safe, and possibly some more church-going. And, of course, most places are closed.
Easter for me is a reminder of how seriously Poland takes its religion. Okay, in big cities like Krakow most of the pubs still open on the Rynek, which shows that some people care more about making money than God. But on the whole, Easter is serious business here – a far cry from the pint-downing heathens on my fair isle. Of course, this year there is more reason for Polish Catholics to take these things seriously. April 27 was the day of John Paul II’s canonisation, an event that divided the country’s MPs.
John Paul II is an icon for Polish people. He was instrumental in the fall of Communism, apologised for the many atrocities the Catholic Church has committed and had good relations with leaders of other faiths. He had his critics, but all in all he is considered to have been a good egg. The Polish People’s Party proposed a motion to commemorate his canonisation, stating: “On the eve of the canonisation of Pope John Paul II, head of the universal church and a great Pole, the Polish parliament expresses its joy and gratitude at this historic event.” However, liberal parties expressed opposition, saying that it was too religious in tone and that we should be concentrating on what he did as a man for his country rather than his religious occupation.
As an ardent secularist myself, I see their point. As a secular state, with a constitution that guarantees religious freedom, it is important that Poland keeps its state affairs and religious affairs separate. Okay, so 95 percent of Poles are Catholic (although this is based on baptisms; the number of practicing Catholics is debatable), but they can still practice their religion while having a government that treats all denominations equally, regardless of how much in a minority they are. On the other hand, Poland is still a very religious country and John Paul II was a deeply religious man, something that should be recognised when commemorating his life and, obviously, his canonisation. So here is an idea: recognise all his achievements, both as a man of the cloth and as a man of his country. Surely everyone will be happy?