Traditional bread prepared for Dożynki (Dozhinki) harvest festival in Poland. Sources of pictures: [1,2,3,4,5,6,7].
Since the ancient pre-Christian Slavic times, the bread had become a symbol not only of food (the main component of daily cuisine in Poland) but also of life. The lack of the “daily bread” signified hunger and death. Still nowadays, to most of the Polish people throwing away the old bread is a sin, bringing bad luck and hunger. An old custom noted by the 19th-century ethnographers was to kiss any bread crumb that had accidentally fell on the floor - that shows the amount of respect held towards it. Before any loaf of bread was cut, a sign of cross was made on it. Another ancient custom was to never cut a slice of the first bread taken out of the oven during the baking time - the first loaf was being only broken by hands, as cutting it would also cut off the good fortune and the family might not be able to bake a bread for another seven years.
Bread became an essential part of the harvest festivals, remnant of the ancient Slavic ritual customs, when the special decorated loafs often become a subject of competition between the bakers. The decorations on them and on the baskets are symbolic, showing gratitude for the good harvest and wishes for the next successful one; though sometimes the loafs would be decorated only with a cross sign. At the beginning of the festival the bread loafs, along with the collected crops and decorative garlands [click here to read a post about the harvest garlands], are being held in a colorful procession to a church and blessed there. At the place of the festival they become a part of a small exposition. Depending on a scale of the event, the hosts (usually the village or town’s owners) often take a round with baskets, either full of bread slices or with a whole bread which parts are being broken off, to greet everyone according to the ancient custom.