Re-living the moments. The original article was posted in December 2020. Christmas is approaching next week. Therefore, I want to re-live with you Polish traditions and customs. And while we pack for the trip to Nepal, I wish you all a Merry Christmas!
Christmas celebration in Poland: 11 unique facts and traditions to discover from Central Europe. Most people celebrate Christmas, yet the traditions and customs between countries can vary significantly. Still, there are many things in common: joy and family time, Christmas tree, gifts! So what is different? As always, ‘devil lies in the details’ (devil – even if this is Christmas time!).
Join me for our first travel to Poland, my Poland. It will be a magical journey. It is Christmas celebration time! Before we talk about Christmas, let’s see how many facts did you know already about this beautiful country? Let me know in the comments! And bon voyage!
POLAND – DID YOU KNOW THAT?
- Name Poland (‘Polska’) comes from the tribe ‘Polanie’ and means “people living in open fields”
- Poland’s documented history started in the year 996
- Poland is the 9th largest country in Europe
- Polish constitution was the second one in the world
- Poland didn’t exist on the map for 123 years, until WWI but language, traditions & customs did since the year 996!
- The capital city, Warsaw, was fully destroyed during WWII and had to be rebuilt completely
- The Polish language is considered to be one of the most difficult ones to learn
- Astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, scientist Marie Curie Skłodowska, Pope John Paul II, pianist Frédéric Chopin, physicist Daniel Fahrenheit were Polish
CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION IN POLAND
Christmas in Poland is called ‘Boże Narodzenie’, meaning ‘God’s Birth’.
Together with Easter, these are the most important holidays in the country.
Christmas time starts with the first Sunday of Advent (4 weeks before Christmas).
Actual Christmas days in Poland are 24th Dec (evening), 25th & 26th Dec (both public holidays: schools, banks, government offices, and most private businesses remain closed).
Many Poles follow strict traditional Christmas customs, and they are many!
Couples / young families meet their respective families for Xmas evening dinner on an alternate year basis or join 2 celebrations during the same evening, e.g., one at 4 pm and the second at 7 pm.
In Polish, Merry Christmas is ‘Wesołych Świąt’!
11 UNIQUE FACTS AND TRADITIONS
Christmas time starts with the first Sunday of Advent, 4 weeks before Christmas. It is the time of preparations and waiting for the nativity of Jesus. Advent is marked with 4 Sundays proceeding Christmas. On each Sunday, one new extra candle is lit up. On the 4th Sunday, all 4 candles shine, ready for Christmas. During Advent daily, Mon to Sat, a special ‘roraty’ mass takes place in the church before sunrise. People attending it walk to the church with lit-up candles or lanterns. The mass starts in darkness, with candles and lanterns light. These have been my childhood memories when I used to walk alone 1 km with a lantern to church for morning mass before school.
#2 CHRISTMAS TREE
Christmas trees are common around the world. Interestingly, in Poland Christmas tree, as per traditions, should be prepared only in the morning of 24th December, before Christmas Eve dinner. Nowadays, many people start decorating Christmas trees at the beginning of Advent or few days in advance. The ornaments usually include glass balls, lights, garlands, sweets, and home-made decorations, with a tree topper or a star at the top.
#3 24th December
The most important day in the Polish Christmas celebration is 24th Dec. Interestingly, it is a working day. Luckily, many companies shorten the work hours on that day. The real celebration of Christmas starts in the late afternoon/evening with Christmas Eve dinner. Usually, families gather around 4 – 6 pm. That’s a close circle gathering. If you are invited, it means that you’re special to that family!
#4 12 dishes
You won’t be hungry during Christmas Eve dinner in Poland. As per tradition, 12 different dishes are prepared and served. They can include veg and fish, as meat is not allowed. It’s believed that 12 dishes might represent the number of the twelve Apostles or the number of months in a year. Prepared meals should include cereal grains, mushrooms, honey. It is said that these ingredients will provide prosperity in the following year.
#5 EMPTY SEAT
Before sitting by the Christmas Eve dinner table, you might notice that the number of seats/plates doesn’t match the number of people. That’s correct. In Poland, we keep one empty seat during Christmas Eve dinner. As per old traditions, people leave the place for the ‘departed souls’. It is also believed that an empty seat is prepared for a wanderer who might knock on the door and should be invited for Christmas Eve dinner.
#6 HAY ON THE TABLE
The hay kept under the tablecloth is a symbol of the poverty in which Jesus was born. The white tablecloth refers to Jesus’ garments. Hay symbolizes modesty, and it is also supposed to bring prosperity to the household. In some parts of Poland, stalks of hay are pulled out from under the tablecloth. The person who pulls out the straight, the longest stalk will be successful in the next year. The one who pulls out the broken or short stalk can expect troubles.
#7 BIBLE reading & WAFER sharing
Just before enjoying Christmas Eve dinner, there are two more traditions: Bible reading and wafer sharing.
One of the family members, usually the youngest (who can read :-)) reads aloud ‘The Birth of Jesus‘ from the Bible. It is Christmas family praying time.
The wafer refers to the Paschal bread. It alludes to the biblical sharing of bread. Whoever shares the wafer, shares love and forgives sins. The wafer symbolizes reconciliation, trust, and friendship. The white color of the wafer is not accidental – it is the color of purity and innocence. A wafer is shared just before sitting down for the Christmas Eve dinner, reconciled and humble.
#8 Santa & GIFTS
There is a big national ‘inconsistency’ about who brings gifts for Christmas (yes… most probably parents :-p). One is sure: gifts are given twice! First on 6th Dec (Santa Day or Saint Nicholas Day) and later, as per tradition, on 24th evening, after Christmas Eve dinner. So who might bring your Christmas gift? The list is long: Santa, Angel, Star, Old Man Winter, Star-Man, or a child, symbol of Jesus. For me, it is either Santa or Star-Man! 🙂
In the morning on 24th Dec or a moment before the first star shines in the sky, a sprig of mistletoe should be kept above the main entrance door. You can also put it on the Christmas dinner table. It is a symbol of peace and brotherhood. So whoever crosses the entrance of the house will consent to it. The twigs drive away evil powers. Mistletoe also symbolizes abundance, and many people kiss under it for more luck!
In some parts of Poland, mainly in the countryside, groups of carolers go from house to house and sing carols. Next to caroling, they might be performing a short nativity play. In the past, these groups always had to include people dressed as the Magi, Herod, death and the devil, and the boy who carried the nativity crib. Their visit at home was to bring their hosts happiness and success in the following year.
At midnight, after Christmas Eve dinner, many Poles attend the Midnight Mass to join the prayers of shepherds on their way to Bethlehem and welcome Jesus Christ. Many people give share also wafer and Christmas dinner food with animals. It is believed that animals, at midnight, start to talk with the human voice. However, people should never try to listen to them.
What is the plan for 25th and 26th Dec? Families and friends gatherings continue! With plenty of food (meat is also allowed), carols singing, potentially a few more gifts unpacking. Some people decide to relax more at home or start vacationing. It is a beautiful time of the year!
Are you hoping for white Christmas in Poland? Recently it happens very rarely, unless in the mountains. The last time when the entire country was covered with snow during Christmas (5 to 40cm of fresh snow) was in 2001 and 2002. In the following years, white Christmas was just in selected regions or cities of the country or… it wasn’t white Christmas at all. Chances of snow are much higher in January and February!
NEW YEAR RESOLUTION
Are you looking for ideas for the New Year resolution? Maybe a small revision of what is there at home? Or what is really necessary and what could be shared with others? Check my blog post about it and enjoy implementing it on daily basis! Click below:
Merry Christmas & Happy 2022, to All!
Have you ever experienced Christmas in Poland? Which is your favorite tradition or which one would you love to experience during your winter expeditions to Central Europe? Share in the comments!
Moments that matter, no matter the celebration.