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Polish Christmas Traditions

Kaczor Duck 2 | 95  
6 Dec 2007 /  #1
Since we have a bit of religion in discussion, I thought it might be nice to see how Polish celebrate Christmas, and any special traditions you practice. I was in Poland after Christmas 4 yrs ago, and had a great time, but would like to know more about it.
plk123 8 | 4,148  
6 Dec 2007 /  #2
there is a whole big thread about chrismas tradition and the table somewhere around here.. find it and you'll know everything.
mazzastaffordsh 2 | 68  
19 Nov 2008 /  #4
Thread attached on merging:

What happens during a traditional Polish Christmas? How is it celebrated by families? Do you expect snow?
Wroclaw 44 | 5,384  
19 Nov 2008 /  #5

12 dishes/courses
hay under the tablecloth
white tablecloth
carp... main dish
extra plate... for unexpected visitor
I think a 13th person sat at the table is unlucky (not sure)

clean the windows
clean the house

go to church (a bit more often at Christmas time)

Don't forget 6th December... Santa Claus Day
An angel or starman brings the prezzies 24th December.

Leave a window open 24th December... for angel, starman, santa... to deliver prezzies

Others will contradict and or add more. It depends on the region you live in.
19 Nov 2008 /  #6
Dont forget the christmas tree.. Its not christmas without one :)
SeanBM 35 | 5,812  
19 Nov 2008 /  #7
extra plate... for unexpected visitor

I like Christmas here but I really like this custom, it's wonderful.
mazzastaffordsh 2 | 68  
19 Nov 2008 /  #8
I think the extra plate business sounds lovely. I had heard about that but thought maybe it did not happen any more. Old traditions are lovely. Think I will have to catch a Ryan Air to Gdynia and surprise my family there, I know there would be a warm welcome. Proper Christmas trees are beautiful and the smell of the pine is lovely. The artificial stuff we have is not the same. I usually get some pine pot pouri to at least get a Christmassy smell in the room. Oh I am really getting in the spirit of the coming season.
Polonius3 1,000 | 12,446  
20 Nov 2008 /  #9
As a Christian nation from the time it emerged in 966, Poland has celebrated Christ’s birthday in accordance with European-wide tradition, while enriching the festivities with its own unique customs and folkways. The way we perceive Christmas we largely owe to St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), an Italian monk who was the first to create a visual portrayal of the nativity scene using live people and animals. Over the centuries it has evolved into a variety of customs including jasełka (nativity play), żłóbek (Christmas crib), herody (humorous skit about the wicked King Herod) and a wide variety of szopka (nativity scene) traditions ranging from puppet theaters to house-to-house caroling with a Christmas crib to that fabulously colorful, cathedral-like Kraków crèche (szopka krakowska). Many other Christmas customs reflected the fact that Poland was a largely agrarian nation, closely tied to the soil and therefore on intimate terms with crops, livestock, the weather, seasons and other manifestations of God’s good earth.

The most common name for Christmas is Boże Narodzenie which can be translated into English as the Birth of God or the Divine Birth. It is also known as Gwiazdka (little star or feast of the star) -- a reference to the Star of Bethlehem which, according to the New Testament, led the Three Kings to our Savior’s lowly place of birth. The term Gody means Christmas Holidays (literally: years -- because the festivities stretch from the old year well into the new) and refers to the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25 - January 6). The term Godne has since fallen into disuse.

In the broadest of terms, the main difference between the Christmas then and now was that the old-style festivities were more participatory in nature rather than being a spectator event. The decorations, artifacts and foods were mainly home-made, not store-bought, and people found ways of keeping themselves involved and entertained wtihout the benfit of the TV, VCR, DVD, Internet or stereo. In the olden days, everyone in the family -- even children as young as four or five -- had tasks cut out for them, so they made an actual contribution to the festivities and appreciated them all the more as a result. Another thing that sets Polish Christmas apart to this day it the importance of the sacred and symbolic and the way it permeates individual beliefs, practices, decorations and even the food.

Advent, the period of spiritual preparation for Christmas, got its name from the Latin prayer which contained the words: Paratus sum ad Adventum Domini (I am ready for the coming of the Lord). Like Lent, it is a time of prayer and fasting, but the abstinence is less rigorous and the general mood more hopeful than penitential. In the Mazowsze and Podlasie regions, the trumpeting of the ligawka or legawka, a long shepherd’s horn, was heard throughout Advent. It was said to remind the faithful of the Last Judgment when the Archangel Gabriel is expected to sound such a trumpet.

The sound of the ligawka also called the faithtful to a daily early-morning Mass known as Roraty. It got its name from Rorate coeli, the first words of a hymn which mean: Rain your dew-drops, o heavens. The Mass began (and still begins) before the break of dawn as a reminder that the world had been immersed in the darkness of sin, when Jesus, the Light of the World, was born. The tradition came into its own in 13th-century Kraków under Prince Bolesław the Bashful.

St Kinga (1234-1292), the Hungarian-born wife of Poland’s Bolesław the Bashful, is credited with bringing the nativity scene to Poland. Known for her great piety, Kinga (also known as Kunegunda) greatly admired the Italian, St Francis of Assisi, who had set up the first Christmas crib in a church in 1223. The story of Jesus’ birth was portrayed by life-size statues or re-enacted by people (usually monks, seminarians or others associated with the church) for the benefit of largely illiterate medieval congregations. In time, these portrayals became increasingly elaborate. Eventually, nativity puppet stages emerged, and in the 18th century the mechanized crèche first made its appearance.

As more and more secular, even humorous elements began creeping in, the once pious congregations began acting more and more like audiences watching jugglers and other entertainers at open-air markets. They pushed, shoved and crowded round the jasełka (nativity scene), laughed, screamed and shouted. In fact, things got so unruly that in the mid-18th century the ecclesiastical authorities banned such nativity presentations from churches. The custom was taken over of by poor students who entertained townsfolk by donning makeshift ‘biblical’ costumes or staging nativity puppet shows house to house.

As for the actual construction of the crèche, in Poland the nativity scene was usually portrayed in a wooden, often thatched-roof stable, or something that vaguely resembled a church or the housing of a wayside shrine. This was unlike the grotto-type shelter used to depict Christ’s birthplace in Italy and other southern lands. The Christmas cribs ranged from the primitive-rustic model typical of the countryside to more refined styles encountered in towns. But absolutely nothing can compare with the breath-takingly beautiful szopka krakowska (Kraków Christmas crib).

What is known today as the szopka krakowska is an urban art-form of relatively recent vintage. It all started round the mid-19th century, when Vistula rafstmen and workmen needed a source of income during the off-season. Some began whittling nativity figurines and fashioning ‘stables’ in which to display them, but they seemed to drew their inspirations from the towers and steeples of Old Royal Kraków. What evolved was a several-story structure far more reminiscent of an Old World Cathedral or story-book castle than the humble stable of Bethlehem.

The crèche-making contest held each year in early December in Kraków’s Rynek Główny (Main Marketplace) goes back only to the 1930s, making it a relatively recent custom as Polish traditions go. Contestants display their entries round the base of the Adam Mickiewicz Monument, and they can be admired all year round in the ethnographic museum housed in nearby Sukiennice (Draper’s Hall).
welshguyinpola 23 | 463  
20 Nov 2008 /  #10
Don't you think we have real trees in UK Mazza and Poland doesn't have plastic ones? I've had a real xmas tree at home all my life and my wife's family in Poland has a plastic silver one. Not everything Poland does is the best - please realise
20 Nov 2008 /  #11
Not everything Poland does is the best - please realise

of course not, but we like to think that... sometimes we need a reality check, but not too often...
mazzastaffordsh 2 | 68  
20 Nov 2008 /  #12
Hi welshguyinpola - Oh yes I know of course about real trees in the UK I think you misunderstand me. When we were young my dad insisted that we always had a real Christmas Tree and it was lovely, however we seem to have more and more of the artificial kind with lights already attached and some already decorated. I have this year seen a 6 foot black Christmas Tree and it was horrendous. For a lot of families a real tree from a Garden Centre is very expensive and also because of all the central heating the trees are often bare as the needles drop off very quickly and do not last for the whole of the Christmas Season. This brings me on the pine pot pourri this is what I buy to get the smell of the pine into my rooms. I am not trying to suggest that everything that Poland does is the best but I am trying desperately to get to know the country that half of me belongs to. From the visits that I have already made somehow the welcome that I have experienced has filled me with pride. Not many countries are welcoming to the Brits but I cannot say that about Poland - so of course I love the country. Oh and also I have had many holidays in Wales in the area of Prestatyn and that too has always been lovely. So please accept I am not biased on the side of Poland I am in the middle of a learning process. Anyway hope your Christmas is a good one too.
dxx 12 | 108  
16 Dec 2009 /  #13
Dec 16, 09, 22:23 - Thread attached on merging:
Christmas traditions in Poland


Since I moved to Poland more then one year ago, I have been hearing a lot about Polish Christmas traditions. Could anyone tell me all the traditions you have related to christmas eve and christmas day, because I heard there are quite a few.

Happy holidays!

It would be nice if we could stick to the topic, since I heard of so many nice things like a priest coming to the house, singing, breaking bread and sharing it and others, I would really like to know more about them and where they originate from.
16 Dec 2009 /  #14
i was told by many friends that at christmas supper that they always set a free space at the table for a guest that has nowhere to go.

then after xmas, when meeting with friends, they ask me what i did, & i say that i was alone at home not doing much. then they say that they had a free place & i should've come by. Hmmm how was I to know? I know its not right to self invite(impose)
aphrodisiac 11 | 2,441  
16 Dec 2009 /  #15
i was told by many friends that at christmas supper that they always set a free space at the table for a guest that has nowhere to go.

that is true and it goes way back to the times when people would stop by. I know that it is not practical anymore since people like yourself spend the X-mas alone, therefore this custom becomes redundant.

At my house we have never had a guest as far as I remember.

Other traditions:
1. X-mas Eve is the most important day/evening
2. after the X-mas Eve supper it a tradition to go the midnight mass- Pasterka
3. there should be 13 different dishes
4. my parents used to put some hey under the table cloth
5. X-mas Eve supper has to be vegetarian(no meat)
6. singing Carrols

There are more and I am sure that other poster will contribute and perhaps know about the origin of those customs since I don't:). Also, every household is a bit different.
Trevor 6 | 66  
17 Dec 2009 /  #16
Christmas Eve is a marathon for my family. We get up at 6 AM to get to making pierogi. But the time we get to Moj Polska Babcia- it is around 8 AM. Then we start making the dough and the fillings. Then the hard work comes in. We have only 3 people that do most of the work (myself[13], my mom[41] and my aunt[60]) then my polska babcia (89) fills them one by one like she did for her whole life. Then we get to making the Gołabki and sometimes Bigos.

Then we make our fish (now tilapia but in the home land, they used Carp) and other side dishes. Only 7 days until my marathon starts!

Do zobaczenia.
aphrodisiac 11 | 2,441  
17 Dec 2009 /  #17
Only 7 days until my marathon starts!

enjoy your X-mas marathon:).
jwojcie 2 | 763  
17 Dec 2009 /  #18
Well, the best Christmas/New Year tradition in Poland I know and I bet no one of you know about is soccer match, full 90 minutes on full size sport field in New Year at midday in my hometown. It is fun as hell because usually field is covered with snow and ice and most of the guys are half drunked still :-) I miss that...
Mr_Chips - | 12  
18 Dec 2009 /  #19
For 38 years of marriage to my Polish girl we do this for Christmas Eve.

Our Family together

Baked Fish
Homemade Pierogi
Homemade Mushroom soup
White Wine
Fresh Baked buns

Coins on the bathroom sink to wash your hands in (supposed to bring wealth in new year)

Traditional Christmas music

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