Adolescence and entry into adulthood

The children who used to live in our area had to deal with work very quickly. Because of poverty and the large number of farm duties, even the smallest children had their tasks to perform. These were mainly caring for animals: herding geese, goats or cows. The more the children grew, the more difficult their duties became. However, growth was associated with certain privileges – most expressed in clothing. It was the eldest child, going to school, for example, who had the chance to receive leather shoes (these were very expensive, and most often families had one pair of shoes for all the children).1 The onset of puberty – and thus the growth of the breasts – was associated for girls with receiving their first corset, used during festivals. Boys usually received a waistcoat and maciejówka when going to secondary school.

Young people had little free time, – because they had to help out at home. However, they often took the opportunity to work together. They herded animals together and helped each other in the fields. During this time, the young people talked and played with each other. The young people were also increasingly invited to play by the adults, and with each passing year they entered their world more and more. They turned up at birthday or name-day parties, as well as village or town dances. A unique form was the wedding, in which the young bridesmaids were allowed to participate completely, filling an important role during the ceremonies. Young people tried to behave like adults, evidence of which can be found, for example, in the chants:

„Oj, chłopaki pijecie, oj czym płacić będziecie,
oj zapłacą ojcowie, oj jak dadzą po krowie.
Oj jak dadzą po krowie, oj po jałówce drugi,
oj zapłacą, zapłacą, oj szynkorejce długi”.

Despite increasing participation in village life, young people remained young. Girls were called ‘women’ – from ‘ignorance’ – and boys were called bachelors. Their opinions never counted on an equal footing with adults, and their needs were secondary. Only one event could change this – marriage. Only then did the young couple become adults and full members of the community. A maiden’s readiness for marriage was marked in an important way – she received her first beads from her father, and for bachelors, it was a signal that it was OK to try to win her hand. Old-marriage, as well as old-marriage, was not well regarded, so young people “of the right age” were quickly tried to be persuaded to marry. Considerations of love and affection were taken into account, but they were not the most important. If the relationship was socially inappropriate (the common example of a nobleman and a peasant maiden), the family did not agree to the marriage. If, on the other hand, the maiden or young man was not in love at all, they were persuaded that the good character of the chosen one was more important than feelings, as these would emerge after marriage. Besides, the concept of love was not as common as it is today. Ethnographic researchers who asked female singers in our area about their love for their spouses often heard the answer: “And what’s not to love him? He’s a good man, he never beat me, he doesn’t drink and he works well”, “I loved, she was a good woman, she always cooked dinner, it’s very hard for me without her”. An account also recorded: “I was the one who fell in love once, but my parents did not give me for him. And it’s a good thing too, because he used to beat his wife afterwards”. Marriage, then, often boiled down to a good life together, which only built love, rather than the affection that was supposed to start the marriage.


1 B. Ogrodowska, Ocalić od zapomnienia, Polskie tradycje i obyczaje rodzinne, Warszawa, 2007