Christmas in Poland is a quaint and much-beloved affair, we simply love Christmas! Most of the Poles mark this holiday as the most waited and liked between others!
Choinka (Christmas Tree)
Traditionally it should be decored on the Christmas Eve Day (and that’s how we celebrate it in my family home) or a few days before. Not earlier! It is quite popular that kids make their own decorations with paper, nuts, apples etc, also hanging some sweets, home-made gingerbread!
Wigilia (Christmas Eve Dinner, 24th of December)
Most of the Polish Christmas celebrations take place on 24th December, and even though the day isn’t an official public holiday in Poland, it is concerned as the most important day of them all.
Waiting for the first star to appear in the sky
For the whole day, as the tradition says, we should be fasting until the Dinner (Wigilia), which we can start only when the first star to appear in the sky. When I was little it was always a kid’s job, to stare and look for it, so we spend hours just looking for the star.
This tradition commemorates the Star of Bethlehem, which according to the New Testament guided the Wise Men to the birthplace of Christ.
Sharing an opłatek
Opłatek is an unleavened wafer made of flour and water with some religious image in it. Every person attending the Christmas celebration gets one and then shares pieces of it with everyone else. This is accompanied by exchanges of good wishes and occurs before sitting down to eat. This tradition is linked to the breaking of bread at the Last Supper. One leaf of “oplatek” is usually pink and it’s designed for animals which are granted the gift of speech on Christmas Eve as a reward for their role in welcoming Jesus on earth as one of the old legends says.
Polish culinary traditions vary depending on the region, on the table there are 12 dishes – they are meant to give you good luck for the next 12 months. The meal is traditionally meat-free, this is to remember the animals who took take of the baby Jesus in the manger. Everyone has to eat or at least try some of each dish. For Catholics, the 12 dishes symbolize Jesus’s 12 Apostles. The dishes may include fish, red beetroot soup, carp, pasta with poppy mass, jellied fish, herring in cream or oil, or Kutia – a wheat pudding with poppy seed, honey, and nuts.
Leaving one empty place at the table
Once everybody sits down at the table to taste the delicious Christmas dishes you might notice that one place is still empty.
According to tradition, an additional seat at the Christmas Eve table is intended for an unannounced and unexpected guest. The unannounced guest has a symbolic meaning – it is someone in need, poor, lost, lonely or without family. But not only, in this way, we can also express the memory of our loved ones who have passed away. The empty plate can also symbolize someone from family or friends with whom we cannot meet this year…
Hay on the table
This tradition is on the decline, but they’re still are families who put hay on the table covering it with the table cloth as a reminder that Jesus was born in the stadle between animals.
Gifts and Santa Claus
One of the best-loved Polish traditions. Traditionally, it Santa Claus who place them under the Christmas tree. But in some regions, there are other gift bingers f.ex in the east (Podlaskie) there is “Dziadek Mróz” (Ded Moroz/Grandfather Frost), in parts of western and northern Poland there’s “Gwiazdor”, the Starman.
The worst part about the Christmas Eve dinner is that you can’t open the presents before it has finished! Older members of the family (who traditionally begin and end this meal) always make it last a long time. In most houses, before the presents are opened, the family sings carols together. Children really want to open the present and sometimes more carols are sung just to tease the children!
Singing the carrols
After eating all 12 dishes, the whole family seats together and it’s time to start the singing!
There are very many carols sung in Poland and each region has its own carols. The most popular ones are “Wśród nocnej ciszy” (Within nights silence), “Bóg się rodzi” (God is born), “Lulajże Jezuniu” (Sleep baby Jesus) and “Dzisiaj w Betlejem” (Today in Bethlehem). The oldest carols are from medieval times, but the most popular ones are from the baroque period.
Christmas Eve is finished by going to Church for a Midnight Mass service.
At midnight following Christmas Eve many Poles attend the Midnight Mass to commemorate the prayers of shepherds on their way to Bethlehem.
Boże Narodzenie (Christmas Day) and the Second Day of Christmas, December 25-26
People visit family and friends to celebrate together, they go to church, sing carols (kolędy), spend long hours at the table.
It is worth visiting churches in Poland during the Christmas season – each church builds its own unique nativity scene (szopka). Sometimes they are modern and metaphorical, sometimes with lots of details that children will love, eg. animals, angels, different figures, ornaments. Churches in Poland are usually open during the day. In some families, there is a tradition (usually on Christmas Day and the Second Day of Christmas) to visit several churches admiring and comparing nativity scenes in each one.
Carolling on Christmas
In some parts of Poland, especially in the countryside, there are groups of carolers going house to house, carolling or performing a short nativity play. They start on Boże Narodzenie, December 25th and goes on till January 4th.
Wesołych Świąt! Merry Christmas everyone!