Christmas begins in Poland on December 24 in the evening and lasts for two days, which are holidays free from work. On this occasion family (sometimes several people) gather to celebrate Christmas.
The most important moment is a Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas Eve is the most awaited by children, because it is this day, after dinner, when the gifts are given. For adults, outside the religious aspect, this is also a moment of reconciliation and submission of the wishes of prosperity. Christmas is so deeply rooted in Polish tradition that it is celebrated also by non-believers. Even in homes of atheists it is common to have Christmas trees and gifts, prepare Christmas Eve dinner and listen to popular carols.
Traditions associated with the Christmas Eve
- The first star – it’s appearance in the sky gives a signal to start the ceremonial dinner.
- Christmas table – an extra place will be set at the table for an unexpected guest. According to Polish tradition it is obligatory to accommodate a homeless person, because on Christmas Eve no one should be alone. It is desirable to have an even number of people by the table. Under the tablecloth hay should be placed as a symbol of poverty of Jesus (the length of the blades indicates which maiden will get married first). In old Poland, before Christmas tree became popular, a wheat sheaf was erected in the corner as a symbol of prosperity and future fertility.
Traditional Christmas table
- Christmas wafer – an essential part of Christmas Eve dinner, a symbol of Christian unity and reconciliation. Just before dinner its participants share their piece with other people, making them good wishes. In the evening hosts share it with animals. There is a strong belief (unfortunately, not confirmed by reliable facts), that on Christmas Eve animals can talk!
- Christmas Eve and Christmas dishes – tradition dictates that there must be twelve dishes on the Christmas Eve table and everybody must try them. These are generally fasting dishes. Each region has its own culinary traditions, but the most typical dishes include fish (fried carp, carp in aspic, herring), soup (beetroot soup, mushroom, fish), cabbage (with mushrooms or peas), dried fruit compote. It also can not miss poppy (to ensure as much wealth as a poppy grain in a poppy head), honey and nuts. The typical Polish Christmas cake is a poppy-seed cake and gingerbread. In eastern Poland very popular is kutia, which is made of poppy seeds and boiled wheat with honey, nuts and raisins.
Beetroot soup with “uszka”
Fried carp with potato
Cabbage with peas
- gifts – kept under the Christmas tree and given after the Christmas Eve dinner.
- Christmas carols – very popular in Poland Christmas religious hymns of more or less exalted character. In many families they are sung in the family circle after supper, less musical groups listen to CDs or TV performances.
- pasterka – a solemn Midnight Mass. In many Polish regions, such as mountains, people go to the church dressed in traditional regional costumes.
Pasterka in Żabnica – highlander’s Pasterka in Żabnica performed by local folk enembles
It is a time of rest, the submission of family visits, participating in the masses and eating delicacies. As in many other countries, during the Christmas houses are decorated with Christmas trees, which were popularized here in the 19th century. Originally decorated by fruits, nuts and hand made ornaments, some made of en empty egg shell. The mistletoe is hung also, which is a custom adopted from the English.
At the holiday season it is popular in villages to visiting houses by so called “kolędnicy” –- a group of young people disguised as Herod, a Jew, Soldier, Death, Devil and Old Man, who perform a scene of Herod’s death and exile him to hell. There are also “kolędnicy” visiting houses with a star, Turoń (animal looking like monster) and a goat.
The most beautiful holidays are associated with mountains – lost in the snowy villages or mountains, brilliantly lit churches are the most popular theme of the Polish Christmas cards.
Photo: Renata Głuszek, Katarzyna Olczak, Wikipedia