Children from all over the world start counting the days to Santa Claus coming on the 1st of December. This month is saturated by magic, expectancy and obviously, home duties. It seems December is a crucial time for the great majority of Poles. Christmas has got countless traditions, beliefs and habits accorded to it. Poles start preparing for Christmas Eve from the beginning of December. The list of its is opened by huge cleaning up houses, thinking over the products which are necessary for cooking Christmas gourmet meals and at the end of it making amazing decoration.
It is curiosity that plenty of Polish emigrants who live abroad miss their homeland at that time. I take it for granted that Christmas belongs to the most family holidays in Poland. They wish to be preoccupied with inevitable buying the Christmas tree, a carp, a herring and making the small gifts for members of a family. Moreover, the magic of Christmas Eve makes the emigrants want to spend time at the table with close people.
I would like to share the knowledge about Polish traditions, celebrations and habits correlated with Christmas time in this article. I hope it will be useful for you.
PREPARATION – HOT TIME IN POLISH HOUSES
There is a pervasive tradition of “Advent Calendar” as becomes 1st of December. Once parents made it using sweet candies, apples or chocolates. Nowadays, one can find Advent Calendars with toys, Lego sets or popular cosmetics for girls or teenagers. Children can’t hold back to open the windows dedicated the next days. Innate curiosity make parents’ joyful in observation.
Cleaning the houses is also the next emblem of Christmas is coming. Even though most of us condemn washing windows or beating the carpets in the wintertime, tradition is stronger than common sense thinking. In the pursuit of unattainable perfection, we just cannot step off.
PREPARATION – HOT TIME IN POLISH HOUSES
According to the ubiquitous tradition to organize Christmas markets, there are also in main Polish cities. They give opportunities to purchase some of the food, Christmas decorations for house and for Chrismas tree. Visitors can drink hot red wine with cloves and cinnamon and admire remarkable lights made by Town Halls. Usually, the Polish Christmas markets start at the beginning of December.
Currently, the pandemic of Coronavirus has held back public gatherings but on the other hand, one can notice the huge tiredness of people who has to struggle with the next variant that poses a threat for them. They wish to get out of the house and meet with friends in the fresh air and just chat about everything. Moreover, they take advantage of Christmas markets to free themselves from the snares of everyday life.
POLISH TRADITION OF DECORATION THE CHRISTMAS TREE
The tradition to make the Christmas Tree has got the roots in Germany. Probably, it was a merit of Polish missionaries who were travelling with the relics and brought this habit to Poland. It was in the XVI century. In the beginning, Poles made the Christmas tree using fresh apples, candies and paper decorations. The tradition has evolved over time and nowadays we can say about Christmas tree fashion.
WHY DOES POLAND CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS ON THE 24TH OF DECEMBER?
CHRISTMAS EVE IN POLAND
Do you know that Polish Christmas Eve Supper, called “Wigilia” in Polish, has been proposed for the UNESCO list of Intangible Culture Heritage? Presumably, passing down the tradition from generation to generation has shaped the way of thinking about Polish celebration as a special, magic time.
Although the 24th of December is not an official bank holiday, in the mentality of Poles, it is the most family time in all of the year. Shops, mall centres, offices and other institutions work shorter in this day. People strive to focus on preparing extraordinary Christmas Eve Supper.
THE FIRST STAR APPEARED IN THE SKY
Members of a family, gathered at the table, are waiting for the first star that appears in the sky. This is the sign that we can start our supper.
Why is the first star is important? Probably, there is a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which was followed by Three Magi, Great Kings during their pilgrimage with gifts for SOn of God. Catholic Poles start from reading the part of the Bible about the newly born of Jesus. After it, they always break a wafels, called “opłatek” in Polish and exchange the best wishes to each other.
CHRISTMAS WAFEL , CALLED “OPŁATEK” IN POLISH
Surely, sharing the Christmas wafels conceals Christmas Eve Supper. It is made with water and flour and obviously should be consecrated by a priest in a church. In the back time, priests were going from house to house and left “opłatek” for each family. Nowadays, Catholics can take it from a church or buy it at the Christmas markets but we have to bear in mind that only “opłatek” from the churches is consecrated. The thin dough is a symbol of Jesus’s body. Moreover, it reminds the last supper, Jesus, with his Apostles.
CHRISTMAS EVE TABLE
If you had an occasion to spend Christmas Eve at a Polish house, probably you have noticed an “empty chair”, a free seat at the table. Once, when people were travelling in a horse-drawn sleigh, back to home in time was impossible in a huge snowstorm. In that case, in each house Poles left a “free plate” on the lavish table for a wanderer. Currently, we get used to travelling by cars or planes but tradition hasn’t consigned to history and it is kept going by Poles.
A white tablecloth, hay and candles are indispensable emblems of Christmas Eve. White colour is a symbol of Jesus innocence, hay was lying in a crib during the Bethlehem night and light brings hope for a better future.
12 CHRISTMAS DISHES
12 Apostles, 12 months in each year so also 12 Christmas dishes at the Christmas table. If you want to meet your targets in a new year, to be in good health and prosperity, you need to taste each dish a little bit. Poles are contributed to the lingering dilemma what better is: mushrooms soup or borscht with tiny “uszka” – a kind of noodles with mushrooms filling? The answer is not obvious and depends on the home’s tradition. After the soup, we usually serve the rest of the dishes, among them, one can find: carp – fried or in jelly, herring, cabbage with peas, sweet poppy noodles, cheesecake and dried smoked fruit which are used for preparing a special drink.
Of course, we can’t imagine Christmas Eve Supper without Polish “pierogi”, a kind of noodles with mushroom and sour cabbage filling.
Carols are being sung in each house in Poland. One of the most popular is “Stille Nacht”, Polish “Cicha noc” which is written by Joseph Mohr. The author of the melody which was composed during one night is Franz Xaver Gruber. The first time the carol was sung was in 1918 in a small church in Austria. The other popular carol is “Bóg się rodzi” , English “God is born”, which was written by Polish poet Francieszek Karpiński in 1792.
WHO BRINGS THE CHRISTMAS PRESENTS IN POLAND?
SANTA CLAUS IS COMING
Santa Claus was a bishop who lived in Mira at the turn of the III and IV centuries. According to the legend he shared his property and helped people who were really poor on their rough path of life. Over time, Santa Claus began to wear red clothes and visit the children from all over the world to bring small presents for them. Curiously, in part of Poland, children call Santa Claus “Gwiazdor” which means “to come from star”.
PASTERKA – A SPECIAL MASS AT THE MIDNIGHT
Polish churches organize a special mass which takes place at the midnight in each church here. After it, Catholics usually visit “szopka”, a remarkable place in a church where we can pray and admire artificially crib.
WHY DO POLES MAKE A CRIB FOR CHRISTMAS?
The tradition of building a crib before Christmas time has roots in The Middle Ages. Presumably, people living in Europe created artificially cribs that showed the scene of the born Son of God. Nowadays, we can notice alive animals. There is a beautiful crib in the city centre, close to Cathedra in each town of Poland.
HOW DO YOU SAY “MERRY CHRISTMAS” IN POLAND?
Wishes are very important in Poland. How to say “Merry Christmas” in Polish? It is just “Wesołych Świąt” .
Merry Christmas to all our readers.