Marzanna is the Polish incarnation of the old Slavic goddess of winter, plague and death.
Drowning of the Marzanna or Topienie Marzanny.
The best way for superstitious Slavs to protect themselves, encourage Spring and a good harvest was to partake in an old-fashioned witch-burning. Followed by a drowning (just for good measure).
The Marzanna, symbolizing winter, death, disease, starvation and all evil, is a braided straw female effigy dressed in white or local folk costumes and adorned with beads and ribbons.
The effigy is held up in a procession to a riverside (or to a lake in case no river can be located nearby). It is sometimes burnt first, and always ends up thrown to the water.
In medieval times, the Marzanna effigy was made out of straw which was then wrapped in linen and beautified with ribbons and beads.
Regardless of the place of burning, it was extremely important to throw all the parts of Marzanna to water, seen as a cleansing force. Rivers were the best for it as full of a ‘living’ water.
This includes also all the ashes remaining after the effigy if it was burned.
The procession is sometimes still adorned with singing or reciting old verses, such as
“Marzanna, Marzanna, swim across the seas. Let flowers bloom, and fields turn green”.
On the afternoon of March 21st, young children would play with/torture the idol, gleefully parading it around and dunking it in every trough and water barrel in the village.
At dusk the villagers would gather at the riverbank, setting the Marzanna effigy ablaze and toss it into the water, cheering as the blazing wretch disappeared downstream.
The symbolic folk custom survives, as almost every child participates in the creation of a Marzanna doll for March 21st.
Marzanna is taken to the nearest riverbank or bridge, set ablaze and thrown to her watery grave as the children sing springtime and witch-burning songs.
Już wiosenne słonko wzbija się po niebie
W tej wezbranej rzece utopimy ciebie!
As the spring sun rises in the sky of blue
in this swollen river we are drowning you!
Happy springtime, kids.
Sources: lamusdorski, thespruce, lsa.umich.edu