Believe it or not, Easter in Poland is as important as Christmas! And it is on this day that the Polish Górale Highlanders celebrate the opening of one of the greatest treasures in the country – Spływ Dunajcem. Spływ Dunajcem (Spw-if Doon-ay-tsem) is a deep tradition of rafting on the Dunajec River in traditional long canoes harnessed together into a boat. The men who steer these boats are called Flisacy, and they entertain tourists with history, myths, and jokes. The boats are privately owned and maintained, adorned on the front with fresh boughs of pine to prevent splashing, and long poles cut from the forest are used to push off the bottom of the river to avoid dangerous white water. In fact, Spływ Dunajcem is one of the key elements that keeps the incredibly rich culture alive in this traditional part of the world.
When men reach the age of 18 in the villages surrounding the Pieniny Mountains, they all become eligible to become a Flisak. First, they must apprentice under a veteran and if they do a good job, they are offered a position that can last a lifetime. Approximately 70% of men join and it is a meaningful source of income during the months the Spływ is open. In the process, these men learn the history of this area, the traditions and dialect, and most importantly they spend time together singing, dancing, and practicing the culture. This important practice compliments the women’s roles in the village that are equally interesting, and entire families continue to wear the traditional outfits native to this region for practically all important occasions.
The mass is held outdoors and this year we had a very special priest travel all the way from Zakopane to lead the procession. Though rain was predicted, everyone showed up dressed to impress with umbrellas in hand. Everything proceeded as it would inside of a church, and afterwards the congregation followed the clergy to the rafts where they were blessed with holy water drawn from the Dunajec River. If you find yourself in Poland around Easter, this is an ideal event to attend to get started checking out all of the incredible attractions in this area and try the unbelievably delicious food all from farm to table.