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Polish Christmas Traditions

Poland is a largely catholic country and for that reason, the time around Christmas is full of traditions originated from and directed to religion. Although the religious aspect of Christmas, the 25th of December is the most important day of the holiday season, the truth is that it is Christmas Eve that has the largest number of traditions and customs. Also, for many families, it’s the most important time to meet and spend time together.

1. Advent

Christmas time is preceded by the 4-week religious season of Advent, the beginning of Christmas Time. This is a time of reflection, expectant waiting, and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus.

2. Decorating the Christmas tree

The Christmas tree is usually bought and decorated on Christmas Eve. It is decorated with a star on the top (to represent the Star of Bethlehem), gingerbreads, lights (previously candles), and bombki, glass balls. Polish bombki are usually hand-made and somewhat famous in the world. They are often used to decorate the Christmas trees in the White House. In the east of Poland, the decorations are traditionally made of straw and are very beautiful.

3. Fasting 

While the whole period of Advent is a time of withdrawal and anticipation, Christmas Eve is a day of actual fasting. It is followed by a sumptuous dinner, consisting of 12 traditional dishes, which in most homes starts with the appearance of the first star. The dinner, wigilia, itself is meatless.

4. Culinary traditions

In Poland, Christmas Eve dinner is one of the most important celebrations of the year. Most of the dishes served are cooked specifically for this special day – and only once a year! Polish culinary traditions vary depending on the region, but traditionally 12 dishes are served to reflect the number of Apostles. The dishes may include many varieties of fish-based dishes, including a fried carp, jellied fish, herring in cream or oil. Other dishes served on wigilia are Sauer Kraut or mushroom-based. There are also sweet pasta with poppy mass or Kutia – a wheat pudding with poppy seed, honey, and nuts. The most beloved dish is red barszcz with porcini ravioli uszka.

5. An extra seat for the unexpected guest 

In most Polish homes, an empty seat with a set of dishes and cutlery is left for a traveler or a homeless person so that they can join the hosts and celebrate the holiday on Christmas Eve. An extra place setting is added in memory of those who are not able to join the family for this meal.

6. Sharing wafer

Just before the dinner, family members share the wafer, opłatek, and wish all the best to each other for the upcoming year.

7. Hay on the table 

This tradition is on the decline, but there are still families who put hay on the table covering it with a white table cloth. Sianko can be also placed in the corners of the room recalling Christ’s humble birth in a stable.

8. Gift giving following Christmas Eve dinner

This is one of the best-loved Polish traditions, especially by children. Traditionally, Santa Claus brings gifts right after Christmas Eve dinner, after all the 12 dishes are consumed or, optionally, they are placed under the Christmas tree before the dinner. The gifts are opened on Christmas Eve.

9. Singing carols

Poland has a larger canon of Christmas carols than any other Christian nation. Christmas carols, kolęndy, are serious and religious in character, yet it is customary to sing them after dinner with the whole family. You can hear strains of Polish folk melodies and popular tunes in many carols. Here is a sample of traditional kolęnda

10. Caroling on Christmas Eve 

In some parts of Poland, especially in the countryside, there are groups of carolers going house to house, caroling, or performing a short nativity play. These carolers on the photo are dressed in the traditonal folk costumes of Górale, meaning ‘highlanders’.

11. Midnight Mass

At midnight following Christmas Eve, many Poles attend the Midnight Mass, Pasterka, to commemorate the prayers of shepherds on their way to Bethlehem.

12. Christmas Days 

Christmas Day and Boxing Day, known as the First and the Second Day of Christmas, are traditionally spent with relatives, even if it means traveling long distances to visit them. December 26th is a holiday to commemorate the first martyr who was fighting for the Christian faith, named Saint Szczepan. Most polish families attend the mess on this day as well.

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This post was written by Rumana Jabeen

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