Cultural: Christmas in Poland

O come let us adore Him.jpg

A Three Day Festival

Christmas is a very big deal here in Poland. It is still very much about the birth of Christ - and not simply about gifts and parties.

In fact, the Catholic church has a ban on alcoholic consumption from December 1 until after December 24/25 at midnight. After that, all restrictions are off and you can again hold parties with alcohol without fear of breaking a law of the Church.

A little side note - Traditionally they have no weddings the from Dec. 1-24 of every year because of this ban on alcohol since virtually everyone has a reception that usually involves unlmited alcohol.  This is an interesting fact to me since I have a brother who got married on December 21 and I have other friends who got married around the 20th of December. That doesn't happen here.

For the typical Catholic, "Christmas" means their Christmas eve dinner which they hold at about 4 pm, or when they can see the first star, or they could see the first star if the sky were not completely socked in with clouds.

Dinner is a family affair. They've been preparing for a week or more for it. Everything is freshly cleaned and newly decorated.  

Taken from Wikipedia:

 photo from google images

photo from google images

 

"Wigilia, the Christmas Eve supper

In Poland, Christmas Eve is a day first of fasting, then of feasting. The Wigilia feast begins at the appearance of the first star. There is no red meat served but fish, usually carp. The supper, which includes many traditional dishes and desserts, can sometimes last for over two hours. It is followed by the exchange of gifts. The next day, the Christmas Day, is often spent visiting friends. In Polish tradition, people combine religion and family closeness at Christmas. Although gift-giving plays a major role in the rituals, emphasis is placed more on the making of special foods and decorations.[1]

On the night of Christmas Eve, so important is the appearance of the first star in remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem, that it has been given an affectionate name of "the little star" or Gwiazdka (the female counterpart of St. Nicholas). On that evening, children watch the sky anxiously hoping to be the first to cry out, "The star has come!" Only after it appears, the family members sit down to a dinner table.[1]

According to tradition, bits of hay are spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. Others partake in the practice of placing money under the table cloth for each guest, in order to wish for prosperity in the coming year. Some practice the superstition that an even number of people must be seated around the table. In many homes an empty place setting is symbolically left at the table for the Baby Jesus or, for a lonely wanderer who may be in need of food, or if a deceased relative should come and would like to share in the meal.

 
sharing the wafer.jpg
 

The supper begins with the breaking of the opłatek. Everyone at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol of their unity with Christ. They then share a piece with each family member. A tradition exists among some families to serve twelve different dishes at Wigilia symbolizing the Twelve Apostles, or perhaps, an odd number of dishes for good luck (usually five, seven, or nine).

A traditional Wigilia supper in Poland includes fried carp and barszcz (beetroot soup) with uszka (ravioli). Carp provides a main component of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland; carp fillet, carp in aspic etc. Universal Polish Christmas foods are pierogi as well as some herring dishes, and for dessert, makowiec or noodles with poppy seed. Often, there is a compote of dry fruits for a drink.

The remainder of the evening is given to stories and songs around the Christmas tree. In some areas of the country, children are taught that "The Little Star" brings the gifts. As presents are unwrapped, carollers may walk from house to house receiving treats along the way.

Christmas Eve ends with Pasterka, the Midnight Mass at the local church. The tradition commemorates the arrival of the shepards to Bethlehem and their paying of respect and bearing witness to the new born Messiah. The custom of Christmas night liturgy was introduced in the Christian churches after the second half of the 5th century. In Poland that custom arrived together with the coming of Christianity.[1] The next day (December 25) begins with the early morning mass followed by daytime masses. According to scripture, the Christmas Day masses are interchangeable allowing for greater flexibility in choosing the religious services by individual parishioners.[5]" end of Wikipedia quote.

Traditionally people would decorate their tree on December 24 as part of the festivities. I am noticing more and more people who are doing it early, however. Live trees have been for sale for a couple of weeks anyway already. I think it is hard for the moms to "do it all" on the 24th - the food, the last minute prep and the tree decorating - plus many people work part of the 24th as the 24th itself isn't an official holiday. Stores will stay open until about 2 pm for all your shopping needs. Then they will be closed until the morning of the 27th.

 

Traditionally people would decorate their tree on December 24 as part of the festivities. I am noticing more and more people who are doing it early, however. Live trees have been for sale for a couple of weeks anyway already. I think it is hard for the moms to "do it all" on the 24th - the food, the last minute prep and the tree decorating - plus many people work part of the 24th as the 24th itself isn't an official holiday. Stores will stay open until about 2 pm for all your shopping needs. Then they will be closed until the morning of the 27th.

 People will often leave their tree up until the very end of January.

People will often leave their tree up until the very end of January.

December 25 usually is the anticlimax as they've already received their gifts on the 24th and gone to church and had their big meal. They sleep in and then go to mom's house and eat again and spend time with family and friends. 

I'm sure the religious ones go to church. The other ones just stay home and have family time.

December 26 is also another day of Christmas. This is the day that many people head out for a week of vacation or to the mountains for skiing. If not, then people spend it with a different part of the family and eating up all the leftovers that they fixed on the 24th. 

Christmas is very much a family affair here in Poland. People who are without family are indeed lonely - and hopefully they have some friends who will invite them over to spend time over these three days.


When the stores reopen on the 27th they are busy!  And the holiday is officially over.  But just around the corner is New Year's Day!

And now you know!


Be sure to check out this beautiful fabric my sis has for you!

Becky Petersen2 Comments