Decorating houses with colourful lights, kissing under the mistletoe or Christmas dinner with roasted turkey as a main attraction: these are just a few of well-known Christmas traditions. Although every country has its own unique customs, it is the Polish Christmas that is considered one of the most festive and magical celebrations, full of symbols and rituals. Would you like to know what makes it so special? Read on!
A Christmas tree in every house
A Christmas tree is an incontestable symbol of Polish Christmas, just like in many countries around the world. Sometimes, we pick a fake conifer, other times a real one that smells like a forest. We decorate them richly with glass balls, Christmas chains, fairy lights or handmade paper or wool adornments, etc. A tradition of bringing a living tree home dates back to the turn of the 18th and the 19th century and at first it was upheld only in the cities. However, it quickly became a popular custom in every home, and without the Christmas tree it’s been difficult to feel real holiday spirit. If there are any kids in the family, a big tree is downright obligatory – after all, it is under its branches that gifts from Santa Claus appear. We also place a nativity scene, with the Holy Family, the Three Kings, shepherds and animals, underneath the Christmas tree in remembrance of the event we celebrate.
There is a day…
What makes Poland different from other countries is the beginning of Christmas festivities a day earlier, i.e. December 24th, also known as the Christmas Eve. It is the most important day of the year for many Poles. No other day is filled with as many traditions and symbols, passed from generation to generation. We do our best to gather many family members to celebrate the festive event together. Its uniqueness is proven by the fact that it was considered to be recognized as a form of Cultural Heritage by UNESCO! If you don’t go back to your home country for Christmas and have a chance to spend that day with a friendly Polish family, take advantage of this opportunity!
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12 months of good luck
Although the celebration doesn’t start until the evening, one can feel the magic of that marvellous day from the very morning. Everyone who can takes part in the dinner preparation. There’s a lot to be done in the kitchen, after all, since there are 12 dishes served on the Christmas table. It is believed that this number symbolizes the Twelve Apostles. What’s more, all of the dishes are fasting, so you won’t see any meat or sweets among them. Don’t let it mislead you, though: hardly anyone can resist flavours of the Polish Christmas Eve supper. The dishes are varied, elaborate and made of local produce, they also require a lot of involvement. Red borscht, roasted carp, pierogi with mushrooms or kutia are just a few examples of compulsory items in the Christmas menu. The tradition says that in order to have a good luck during the upcoming year, you must get a taste of every Christmas Eve dish!
The first star
When can we start feasting, then? We need to wait for a signal from… children! It is them who look for the first star on the night sky as soon as dusk has fallen – the first star which is a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem and a sign that it is time to begin the Christmas celebration.
Supper in unison and joy
Before we can start the supper, we want to apologize, thank, and wish the best in the upcoming year to all family members who take part in the festivities. For this reason, we practice a custom unknown in other countries – we divide the wafer with everyone who sits with us at the Christmas Eve table. This tradition dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. It is an intimate moment of private conversations with the closest loved ones, so as to cherish those moments in unison with our family.
One plate too much?
Although there are really many people at the Christmas Eve table, there is always some space for one additional plate. Why? It is another Christmas custom, an expression of respect and remembrance of our late family members. The empty plate has one more meaning: in compliance with Polish tradition, no one should be alone on that unique day, and we are ready to welcome someone lost, lonely or old, so that they can feel the holiday spirit.
Surprises at the Christmas table
Don’t be surprised by lumps underneath a tablecloth – it is hay that we place there in remembrance of the conditions in which the Son of God was born. It is not the only thing, however, that we hide under the Christmas dinnerware. Finishing the supper, you may want to look under your plate: you’ll find a carp scale. Put in the wallet, it will guarantee an influx of cash in the upcoming year.
Something for the body, something for the soul
When our bellies are full, it is time for carolling together. It is the part of celebration that helps to strengthen the family bonds, as well as it is a perfect background for another activity, beloved particularly by children: exchanging gifts. Often, the youngest are the ones to reach under the Christmas tree in order to retrieve the gifts from Santa Claus who visits Polish houses on that day. No one is excluded, even if they were to get just a symbolic gift.
The Christmas Eve feast is not the only highlight of the evening: at midnight, a celebratory mass is conducted in every church, filled with joy and colours, thanks to many keenly sung Christmas carols and beautifully decorated interior. The event is frequently accompanied by additional choirs or original instruments.
After the Christmas Eve – it’s time for Christmas to begin!
The solemn and wonderfully ceremonious Christmas Eve evening is already behind us: does it mean the end of the festivities? Not in the slightest! The next two days, established as national holidays, are devoted to family reunions, relishing the original dishes, prepared specifically for this occasion; this time they are no longer fasting, but instead there is meat and various kinds of cakes. Hunter’s stew, pies, poppyseed cakes or colourfully decorated Christmas cookies dominate the Christmas table. Often, enjoying a charming winter aura, we go for a walk together, with the braver deciding to join one of numerous sleigh rides.
Christmas is a time full of magic, always accompanied by certain rituals and customs. Every country has their own unique traditions, and the Polish ones are strikingly rich, which you could see while reading the article above. Have you heard about any of those traditions from your Polish friends, or have you been particularly surprised by one of them?