Carnival known as “Zapusty” in Kuyavia is a Polish folk tradition that starts every year on Fat Thursday. Participants meet for a march through the town, during which they can present their handmade costumes. After this event, carolers go back to their villages.
The main purpose of the Carnival has been social integration – the rituals are supposed to symbolically overcome hardships, leading to the time of prosperity. Caroling groups walk from village to village collecting donations from farmers, dancing to lively music and giving best wishes.
The goat has become the symbol of the caroling group; in combination with the name of a given village, it was used to identify different groups, and their activities were called as “walking with the goat.” The goat symbolizes fertility in relation to people, earth and animals – it is recognized as the main character of the entire event, included in all screenplays with participation of other characters.
During their free time, carolers take a break for a meal and a “warming” drink. They travel through the village from the early morning. Many of them will go to work on the same day. Groups like to enroll new members, particularly young participants. It promotes continuation of traditions, but there is also a risk that young people will not be able to explain to their younger friends the meaning of all carnival customs.
In the past, an important part of Carnival was a party known as “Podkoziołek” that ended Carnival, which was supposed to encourage matchmaking and marriage. Young ladies were asking bachelors to dance by tossing money under the goat statue. Researchers believe that appearance of the newlyweds in the caroling group was compensation for the lost “Podkoziołek”, which has not survived to this day.
The magical atmosphere of the custom is reflected by colorful and diverse characters. The size of caroling group varies and depends on the number of those who want to participate in the party. Participants play their role as the goat, horse, devil, man dressed as a woman, newlyweds, coot and biddy, chimney sweep, bear, firefighter, policeman, soldier, death with a scythe, stork, Jew and orchestra.
"Rye is harvested where
the goat walks,
stacks are built on its footsteps,
and haystacks are seen where it turns its horns."
Carolers travel on a tractor with a trailer from home to home. They continue their customs until Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The entire event ends with a dance, but this time it is not a costume party. All of that is watched, researched and archived by employees of the Museum of the Kuyavia and Dobrzyń Land in the city of Włocławek, where the caroling groups are very active.