However we are far from glorification of everything what is Polish, it must be said that Polish Christmas carols (Eng. carol = Pol. kolęda) are among the finest in the world. And they are so strongly linked with Polish Christmas tradition that the most popular can be sung even by atheists.
In this place it must be explained for people from Protestant countries, especially those from Calvinist Holland, that Polish carols are not synonymous with the highly religious songs as sung in the protestant churches.
Christmas carol singers from Tarnowskie Góry (in historical clothes of the local old silver mine miners)
Whether one believes in God or not, we cannot imagine Christmas in Poland without listening to them. At least from TV, but in the stores there is a wide selection of CDs with carols in various performances: traditional (choirs) or unconventional, sung by highlanders, pop artists, jazzmen or many other else. The list of Polish Christmas carols includes about 500 titles!
The word carol is derived from the Latin calendae, which meant “the first day of the month”. In the first days of January people in old Poland used to visit houses with best wishes for their hosts, who rewarded them with some gifts. The custom has survived to this day as groups of specially dressed people – “kolędnicy” – visit houses with special performances based on Bible themes. In the picture: a group of “kolędnicy” from Gwiżdże.
In the period from the Middle Ages up to the 16th century “kolęda” was a typical religious song, often modeled after church hymns. An example of such a carol is “Anioł pasterzom mówił” (“The angel said to the shepherds”) originating in the 16th century.
Anioł pasterzom mówił
Christmas carols became typical home performed compositions at the turn of the 17th /18th centuries. They were written and composed by authors of various provenance – courtiers, nobles, clergy, organists, parochial school teachers, writers and poets and folk artists. The names of many of them are known (Francis Karpinski, Mikołaj Sęp Szarzyński, Andrew Morsztyn, Teofil Lenartowicz, Feliks Nowowiejski, Zygmunt Noskowski), but the authors of many popular carols, like “Pójdźmy wszyscy do stajenki” (“Let’s go to the stable”), remain anonymous. This social differentiation of the authors heavily influenced the content, style and composition of the Polish carols.
Many of them are simple, very melodic and peaceful lullabies, like “Lulajże Jezuniu” (“Hush Jesus baby”).
A few Christmas carols are based on historical musical tunes. For example: “W żłobie leży” is based on the tune of a polonaise composed for coronation of King Ladislaus IV.
Polonaise rhythm also has a popular Christmas carol “Bóg się rodzi” (“God is born”)
In the past centuries carols of this kind were not recognized as official religious songs and therefore were not performed in churches. They were sung at homes – and in many religious or musical families this custom is still practiced. Others have to enjoy TV concerts instead or CDs.
A special kind of carol is bucolic “pastorałka” (Lat. Pastoralis) – folk hymn of cheerful character and customary life motifs associated with the Christmas theme. The name derives from the wellknown word “shepherd” – Pol. “pasterz”. An example: “Jezus malusieńki” (“Little Jesus”).
(It is about little Jesus in the stable and crying from cold as his mother was too poor to give him any clothes)
Currently carols are still written, but they have the character of secular songs referring to Christmas. Sometimes they are written in a humorous way, like the famous Christmas carol “Będzie kolęda” (“Caroll will happen”) by Skaldowie team. The song describes preparations for Christmas Eve, including the urgent need of cleaning the stain on the tablecloth, and laughs at the poppy seed which can be chopped by the ax (so hard).
Here in a modern version by Mela Koteluk:
A Very nice, jazzy carol is performed by satirist Artur Andrus and jazz singer Dorota Miśkiewicz: Bambino jazzu
Each traditional carol can be interpreted in various ways. Especially beautiful performances are given by the highlanders to the accompaniment of violins.
Folk ensamble from Beskidy Mountains
The following are examples of different combinations of popular Christmas carols.
Golec uOrkeistra CD
And at the end:
For those who came to the end of this story something special: Oj maluśki, maluśki, maluśki by employees of the Centre of Silesian Culture in Nakło Śląskie, starring Renata (the lady in blue)
The Centre of Silesian Culture team
For more Polish carols examples go to: Piosenki religijne
Text: Renata Głuszek
Photo: Wikipedia, Krzysztof Miller, Renata Głuszek