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What should a foreigner do when invited to join Christmas dinner with his Polish-friend's family?


blackcathl
4 Dec 2014  #1
Polish people are famous for their hospitality, I know this because I was just invited to join my Polish friend's family on Christmas dinner this 24th. I'm really happy and excited because this is going to be my first experience of Polish tradition. but at the same time, I feel nervous because I don't know if it's okay or normal for him to invite me over to his home in such an occasion, I learned that Christmas is the time for the whole family to re-united, so is it okay for me to join them? what should I do to express my gratitude and to please the host family? what kind of gift should I bring and what traditional rules should I obey in this occasion? any advice on transportation from Lodz (my place) to Wroclaw (his hometown) would be highly appreciated! this is really important to me so please tell me just anything that you consider a must-known piece of information. thank you very much!
Harry
4 Dec 2014  #2
what traditional rules should I obey in this occasion?

Do not openly drink alcohol on the 24th; however, if any male invites you onto the balcony to have a smoke or show you his bike / his tomato plants / the view / whatever, you will be handed a shot of vodka. The important rule is that what happens on the balcony stays on the balcony.
DominicB - | 2,675
5 Dec 2014  #3
Do not openly drink alcohol on the 24th

I haven't met this custom. Quite the opposite, in fact, with the families I spent Christmas with in Chojnice, £owicz and Jelenia Góra. Drinking wine with wigilia was the rule, and "pasterka" meant watching a film or gathering around the fireplace and drinking wine and vodka, but not to excess. Christmas day is spent sitting at the table all day long eating and talking, with a hike in the woods or a visit to friends and family.

I fel nervous because I don't know if it's okay or normal for him to invite me over to his home in such an occasion, I learned that Christmas is the time for the whole family to re-united, so is it okay for me to join them?

Your absolutely welcome. Poles love having guests at Christmastime.

what should I do to express my gratitude and to please the host family? what kind of gift should I bring

Be polite, eat at least a little of everything offered to you at the table, compliment them on the cooking, play along with whatever they are doing. As for gifts, a box of very fine chocolates or a selection of very fine teas, perhaps an excellent bottle of dessert wine, fancy liqueur or mead (miód pitny) for mom, and a bottle of excellent vodka or whiskey for dad (unless you know he doesn't drink). Token gifts for other family members - nothing over a zloty, just something small to show you thought about them, especially if you've met them before. Don't bring perishable food. There will be more than enough. Homemade cookies may be a nice treat for the family if their the kind that can keep for a few days.

Lodz (my place) to Wroclaw (his hometown)

There is a bus from the Kaliska station, and trains as well. The bus is generally faster and cheaper, but less comfortable. The train takes longer, but its a lot more comfortable. DO NOT TRAVEL ON THE 24TH. It's murder, unless you are traveling first class. Try to go on the 21st or 22nd if you can. Check about the bus. There's PKS for sure, but I think there are also some private bus lines that are faster and more comfortable. Check. I always took the train first class on the same route, just in the opposite direction. It's worth the extra money. Second class can be very crowded at holiday time. The roads and train lines from £ódź to Wrocław are in bad shape, so plan on a long ride.
Paulina 9 | 1,448
5 Dec 2014  #4
I feel nervous because I don't know if it's okay or normal for him to invite me over to his home in such an occasion

Don't be nervous, Poles invite people from outside their family to Christmas Eve supper and I'm sure your friend asked his parents/the hosts whether he can invite you (of course, it is a family thing and the people who are being invited probably aren't just any people, so you may feel honoured by such invitation, I guess :)).

The only awkward, confusing moment for you may be during breaking the opłatek (Christmas wafer):

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_wafer

If your friend's family is celebrating this tradition then it will probably happen at the beginning. Everyone will get one Christmas wafer and they will be breaking them with each other and exchanging wishes (while standing) before the supper. If you get one then people will come up to you (one person at a time) and wish you stuff like good health and fortune, etc. and while they're giving their wishes you should break off a bit or a few bits of their Christmas wafer (they will be holding it in front of you). And then (at least if you know some Polish, I guess :)) it will be your turn to give your wishes and they will be breaking off bits of your Christmas wafer (so offer it to them like they did with their wafers). Btw, take only white wafers, those blue, pink or yellow ones are for animals (if the family has pets). You usually eat those bits of wafer after you finish the breaking of the wafer with one person and then you move along to another person.

If giving wishes is over and you're still left with some wafer then eat it or put it on your plate (don't throw it away into the dustbin or sth).

The breaking of the Christmas wafer isn't a religious ceremony or anything, it's more of a family tradition nowadays but the wafers are baked in the same way as Hostia (sacramental bread used during Mass) and breaking of Christmas wafers has its roots in old Christian traditions so if you have a problem with taking part in it you can simply tell your friend beforehand that you'd like to be excluded from this.

If the family is more religious someone may read a fragment from the Bible and after that the eating starts and that's basically it :) According to the tradition there should be 12 dishes and in theory everyone should try at least a bit of each dish. But that's just theory - I usually don't eat each and every dish, mostly only those I like ;) (you can ask your friend which are the most edible ones, or if you want to be more polite - which ones are his favourite :)) If the host asks you about the food then it would be probably better to say that everything is very tasty ;)

Btw, in my family we start the Christmas Eve supper when the first star shows on the sky (if it isn't cloudy, that is :)).

Do not openly drink alcohol on the 24th

I haven't met this custom.

It probably depends on the family.

Be polite, eat at least a little of everything offered to you at the table, compliment them on the cooking,

Yup.

As for gifts, a box of very fine chocolates or a selection of very fine teas, perhaps an excellent bottle of dessert wine, fancy liqueur or mead (miód pitny) for mom

Another option could be one of those hand painted Christmas bulbs (usually a bulb holder is included), I guess. But I don't think it's really necessary to give gifts to other members of the family (except for the hosts).
f stop 25 | 2,513
5 Dec 2014  #5
Flowers for the lady of the house, a bottle of good booze for the man. Even if they don't drink, good liquor is appreciated, for the guests. That's to get in the door.

If the presents are to be exchanged, small gifts for under the tree. Like a scarf or perfume for a woman, some tool or gadget for the guy.
krecik89 3 | 60
5 Dec 2014  #6
Opłatek time can be a bit of a scrum if it's a big family. Also the guys sometimes land smoochers on each other but as a friend of the family you should be exempt. Learn a few wishes and smile a lot.
DominicB - | 2,675
5 Dec 2014  #7
Flowers for the lady of the house

Not at Christmastime. The house will be decorated enough with the Christmas tree and all. On other visits, yes. You're better off with chocolates, tea or liqueur/dessert wine.

a bottle of good booze for the man.

Good is the operative word here, so ask a local for advice if you are buying vodka.

Like a scarf or perfume for a woman, some tool or gadget for the guy.

Those are gifts that family members give each other, not that an outsider would give, especially a younger stranger. Far too intimate. Unless you already know them very well.
Paulina 9 | 1,448
6 Dec 2014  #8
Not at Christmastime. The house will be decorated enough with the Christmas tree and all. On other visits, yes. You're better off with chocolates, tea or liqueur/dessert wine.

I agree.

Those are gifts that family members give each other, not that an outsider would give, especially a younger stranger. Far too intimate. Unless you already know them very well.

Yes, I think DominicB is right.

Learn a few wishes and smile a lot.

Yup :)
OP blackcathl
6 Dec 2014  #9
thank you everybody so much. I really appreciate your help and I will take your advices into consideration. I think I will bring with me a box of fine chocolate.

Try to go on the 21st or 22nd if you can

about this matter, for some reason I will have to arrive at 24th morning, so do you think travelling from Lodz to Wroclaw in that day can be possible for a foreigner like me? thank you!
DominicB - | 2,675
7 Dec 2014  #10
about this matter, for some reason I will have to arrive at 24th morning,

Traveling on the 23rd or 24th is plain hell. By all means, take the train and travel first class. It's well worth the money. The second class cars will be a zoo, and you might well end up standing in as crowded passage the whole trip.

Buy your ticket a week in advance, or buy it online. The lines at the ticket counters at the train station are very long and move very slowly during the peak holiday travel season.
Dougpol1 30 | 3,048
7 Dec 2014  #11
Oh - and to be my usual negative self - the OP has to be warned about the uneatable food in Wigilia.

Enjoy the soup (for example barszcz with eared dumplings) and DO accept a second helping. Because that is all that the British taste buds can tolerate - unless you are Jewish and enjoy revolting decorative fish then be prepared to suffer.

Carry a flask of whisky in your breast pocket and visit the toilet often.

Even better - go ski-ing and avoid the horrible culture-bound formal evening of Wigilia altogether.

Here to help :)

PS Only joking - have a fantastic time. As Paulina or Dominic or sb said - no need to be nervous. Poles are so warm at Christmas.

Pity about other times mind :)
Roger5 1 | 1,458
7 Dec 2014  #12
Doug, haven't you noticed sales of carp falling in the last ten years or so? There's definitely less of the awful stuff around here, and I live in a conservative part of the country, unlike you sophisticates on the Polish Riviera.
sobieski 107 | 2,128
7 Dec 2014  #13
We will eat salmon - cannot stand karp.

There is a bus from the Kaliska station, and trains as well. The bus is generally faster and cheaper, but less comfortable

I thinkk you are talking about Polskibus here...I think they are quite comfortable. But it is true what other posters mentioned - madness to take any train without reservation on the 24th.

Anyway, I think Christmas Eve is one of the most endearing days in Poland.
Dougpol1 30 | 3,048
7 Dec 2014  #14
sales of carp falling in the last ten years or so? There's definitely less of the awful stuff around here

Yes - to be far to my ma-in-law - she did mellow in old age and gave me the option of Sandacz - which was well received.

I stand by my comments about boringly starchy Polish Christmas though :) Much as I admire "Potop" and "Kanal", I do hanker after the British office parties of the Carry On film series stereotype, where the MD would be left locked in his office all night after his secretary promised to "meet him" there :))
WielkiPolak 58 | 1,034
7 Dec 2014  #15
Doug, haven't you noticed sales of carp falling in the last ten years or so? There's definitely less of the awful stuff around here, and I live in a conservative part of the country, unlike you sophisticates on the Polish Riviera.

Yes, we don't even have karp at Christmas, because no one likes it. Why force yourself to eat something that is traditional if you don't like it? I mean, it's not a religious rule or anything, so there's no need to have it if you don't like it. We usually have barszcz with uszka, then a different type of fish with salad for the main course. Then there's nuts and pieces of cake around, and a few other bowls depending on the Christmas, it does vary. No meat of course.
kpc21 1 | 763
8 Dec 2014  #16
If you choose train, you will be probably travelling this one
rozklad.sitkol.pl/bin/traininfo.exe/pn/881769/465846/330722/128562/55?ld=c&seqnr=4&ident=ez.031733190.1417995357&date=24.12.14&station_evaId=5100039&station_type=dep&journeyStartIdx=8&journeyEndIdx=20&backLink=tp&

Do buy your ticket in advance.

Or choose PolskiBus. Tickets for 30 PLN are still available (for train 1st class the price is almost 80 PLN), it doesn't take more passengers than the numer of seats (in the train you have a seat reservation, but you are likely to have to squeeze between crowd standing in the corridor while going to toilet or just boarding/unboarding the train) and goes faster making use of a brand new highway (S8). According to the timetable - 3h 25min, but the timetable is from before opening the last section of S8 highway, so now the time is yet shorter. Train goes over 4 hours.
sobieski 107 | 2,128
8 Dec 2014  #17
Or choose PolskiBus.

Exactly. By far the better option. I travel with them regularly and cannot complain about them. Plus they have free wifi. Sure this is not a must, but handy :)

Why force yourself to eat something that is traditional if you don't like it

Also true. We will eat salmon.
f stop 25 | 2,513
8 Dec 2014  #18
Carp became a tradition because for a while, that was the only available, and feasible, fish option.
Littleone2201
10 Dec 2015  #19
Merged: First Polish Christmas together...

I've been dating this guy for about 2/3mths, we are really close and I'm his first relationship he's had so it's very new for both of us. he's polish not that it usually matters however in this case it kind of does.

I'm spending Christmas and new year with him and his brother and although I'm learning to speak and listen to his language (he.and his brother teaching me) I'm struggling with the writing and I would love to write his Christmas card in polish.

If anyone can help I would really appreciate it... I know it would mean a lot to him.

Also... What traditions and etiquette is expected over Christmas and new year?

I know a few things but as it's our first Christmas together and my first polish Christmas (12 meals!!??!!) it would be nice to know what to expect and be able to follow the traditions
Atch 17 | 2,886
10 Dec 2015  #20
Young love - how nice! Firstly don't worry about the twelve meals. It's actually twelve dishes making up one meal, eaten on the evening of 24 December. Many of the dishes are prepared well in advance.They are all fish or veggie based. He won't expect you to cook all that and if he does - well, your New Year's Resolution should be to find a new boyfriend! A lot of Polish guys are quite good in the kitchen and enjoy cooking. Just offer to lend a hand with preparations. Here's a good site that gives a description of the food, plus photos:

culture.pl/en/article/the-12-dishes-of-polish-christmas and from the same site:
culture.pl/en/article/polish-christmas-eve-traditions
Wesołych Świąt!
Littleone2201
10 Dec 2015  #21
Haha I wouldn't call it young love we are both very close to our 30s... although it is reminiscent of being a pair of teens!

His brothers doing the food as he loves cooking and is an amazing cook too
and I love learning and joining in where I can.. Now to learn how to write Christmas cards in polish lol


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