How to celebrate Polish Christmas?
It’s always confusing for me on how I am going to spend my Christmas. It is either in Poland, Uk or France now. But Christmas is very important for me and wherever I am I will make sure I will have some if not all traditions which I have been celebrating with my family each year in Poland. On top of that I think Polish Christmas are special and unique but I guess this is a case for each of us…it brings memories back, create valuable time with the family, it’s a time to stop and have a think, it’s a time when people are kind to each other, where there is a nice food involved and some parties. But do you know how Polish people celebrate their Christmas? Do you know the top traditions that cannot be missed during the festive time? Well let me share with you all of this so you can understand why I love my Polish Christmas so much….
- Advent – it’saperiod of time which starts on 1st December (with the famous Advent Calendar) and it’s the time for Polish people to prepare for Christmas. It involves taking up many resolutions to improve, be better, itinvolvesfor example giving up their favourite foods or drinks and the real fact is that – the parties and discos are forbidden. So you might find it still in Poland that many clubs and discos are closed. Thereisthe tradition of the ‘roraty’, special masses held at dawn. It is very popular among kids who attend it every day with special lampions. Advent is also a time when people prepare their houses for Christmas. There’s lots of cleaning and people wash their windows and clean their carpets very thoroughly.Sorather then doing a lotofshopping shopping, and parties as it happens in different countries, those 4 weeks before Christmas is a spiritual preparation for the Birth of Christ.
- “Święty Mikołaj” – St Nicholas/Santa Claus visits Poland earlier on 6th December – so this is a day when St Claus -Mikołaj is visiting houses and brings gifts for good kids and for the ones who didn’t behave well, he has a birch. There is a nice tradition that family members dress into Santa Claus costumes and come to bring presents to small kids. So Polish gifts meetMikołaj earlier than others 😉
- Choinka – The Christmas tree – traditionally it is bought in and decorated on Christmas Eve. It is decorated with a star on the top, gingerbreads, lights and “bombki” which are baubles and glass ornaments in different shapes. The task to decorate the tree is delegated to the men and kids cause on that day the women in the family get busy with cooking for the evening meal.The tree will stay up at least through the Twelve Days of Christmas, which end on the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6th.
- Jasełka – Nativity Plays – The Christmas story played by children in schools and preschools and church. Kids dress and perform the nativity scene for families and friends.
- Wigilia – Christmas Eve – 24th December – the date when themain main Christmas meal is happening. The houseis cleaned and everyone gets washed and puts on their festive clothes. Traditionally, people try not to eat a lot of food before it, awaiting the famous feast of 12 dishes…
- 12 Potraw- 12 dishes – theyare meant to give you good luck for the next 12 months. For catholics the 12 dishes symbolize Jesus’s 12 disciples. The meal is traditionallymeat free (to remember the animals who took take of the baby Jesus). Everyone has to eat or at least try some of each dish.
- Pierwsza Gwiazdka – The First Star – begins the Christmas Eve meal which is often a ‘fasting day’.
- The Meal: “barszcz” (beetroot soup) with “uszka” (little dumplings with mushrooms) or “krokiety” (pancakes with mushrooms or/and cabbage, in breadcrumbs, fried in oil or butter) and/or mushroom soup with noodles! The Carp is the main dish of the meal with the potatoes, few types of cooked cabbage with mushrooms. To drink you have “kompot z suszu” – a drink made from dried fruits and fresh apples (not that tasty actually but very traditional!). The most popular desserts are: a poppy seed roll made of sweet yeast bread, “kutia” , ‘makowki’ – mixed dried fruits and nuts with wheat seeds, “piernik” a moist cake made with honey (that’s like gingerbread) and pierniki – gingerbread cookies. Other traditional dishes include: pierogi (stuffed dumplings) with sauerkraut, jellied fish, , herring in oil, moczka (gingerbread, beer, raisins and nuts). Poles rarely drink alcohol to their Christmas supper.
- Karp – Carp – traditional Christmas fish bought a few days earlier alive and it swims in the bath until it’s killed bythelady of the house! The carp’sscalesare said to bring luck and fortune and by some are kept for the whole year (e.g. in wallets) Someolderladies put them in their bras for the time of the supper and give them next day to the guest for good luck!!!
- Bible Reading & Pray – the head of the family opens the Christmas Eve Meal with the bible reading and the prayer
- ‘Oplatek‘ – is a thin wafer made of flour and water, similar in taste to the hosts thatare used for communion during Mass. Itis shared beforeWigilia, the Christmas Eve supper and wishes for peace and prosperityare exchanged.
- Animals Speaking – the legend says that if animals eatoplatek on Christmas Eve, they will be able to speak in human voices at midnight, but only those who are pure of spirit will be able to hear them.
- Free seat – traditionally there is always an empty place left at the table during the Christmas Eve meal . It is kept for an unexpected guest. No one should be alone or hungry on Christmas so if someone unexpectedly knocks on the door theyare welcomed.
- Table Decorations – there is a straw put on the floor of the room, or under the table loth, to remindpeople that Jesus was born in a stable or cow shed. There has to be a white tablecloth and festive china.
- Presents – they are opened on 24th of December and not brought by St Claus but by a small Baby Jesus (Dzieciątko), Angel, Star, Starman (Gwiazdor) – depending on the region. You can’t open the presents before the meal finishes! And it is a long meal which starts with a pray, 12 dishes to try and then at the end the family sings carols together.
- Christmas carols – which are rather serious and religious, not the kind of cheerfulsing-songy types you are likely to hear in England or USA. The most popular ones are “Wśródnocnejciszy” (Within nights silence), “Bógsięrodzi” (God is born), “LulajżeJezuniu” (Sleep baby Jesus) and “Dzisiaj wBetlejem” (Today in Bethlehem).
- Pasterka – Shepherds’ Mass this is a Midnight Mass at Church which finishes Christmas Eve. When Jesus was born, only shepherds came to adore him and to spread the good news.
- ‘Jaka Wigilia, taki cały rok’ – It is important to remember that the way you spent Christmas Eve Day it will be the same for the next year….It means that if you are happy on that day, your next year will be happy too. If you are arguing with your loved ones, you should expect the next year to be the same, etc…
- Christmas Holidays – those days after Christmas Eve are often spent with family and friends. Its relaxing time full of food, silly Christmas shows and movies.
- Jemiola – Mistletoe – people in Poland also use it as an excuse to kiss
- Trzech Kroli -Epiphany- the 6th of January – is an important holiday in Poland when people go to church and Polish Children also often get dressed up and go around houses to sing carol
- Kolednicy -Carolers – walk from house to house between Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany, carrying a star on a pole and a Nativity scene. They usually wear folk costumes or dress up as angels, shepherds, kings, sometimes also as devils or theGrim Reaper. Theyare treated to food and drink and sometimes other gifts in return.
- Szopka – Nativity Scene – popular at Christmas in all Christian countries and in Poland. In each church, there is always a big one with the hand-carved figures, some families will have a small imitations at homes. But there are some cities which have beautiful artistics szopka like the one in the city of Krakow. It has its own very colorful szopka tradition that dates back to the 19th century, when Krakow’s craftsmen, including masons and woodworkers, began to make them as seasonal decorations in order to earn extra income during the holidays.
So i tried to list most of the traditions as i know there are many more and that depends mostly of the region of Poland. But the above ones are known and celebrated by my family and me.
So please do tell me how do you like the Polish Christmas. Did you know any of this? Would you like to experience any of top traditions I have listed above? Well if you are curious and interested I can tell you more, get in touch and I will share even more things about Polish Christmas. But in the meantime…..Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia