Christmas is a magical and important holiday in Poland when families across the country decorate Christmas trees, ornaments appear in the main town’s squares, and the Christmas atmosphere can be felt almost everywhere. The Christmas season officially starts on December 6 when well-behaved kids receive gifts from Saint Nicholas. From this day on up to December 24, the whole country plunges into pre-Christmas madness.
Would you like to experience Christmas like a Pole? Let’s dive into the most popular traditions in Poland.
Poles’ most significant and cherished day is Christmas Eve, when families gather together at home to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Christmas Eve dinner begins with the appearance of the first star in the sky. Before starting dinner, families share a special wafer called “oplatek” while exchanging Christmas greetings.
The table is covered with a white tablecloth and has a bundle of hay underneath. An additional seat at the Christmas Eve table is intended for an unexpected guest, and this custom became popular in the 19th century. The empty plate on the table is a memorial of the relatives who have passed away and cannot share this moment with us anymore.
A strong tradition accompanying Christmas Eve is singing Christmas carols. Nothing connects people as much as caroling together on Christmas Eve. Everyone knows the lyrics of the carols. Their melodies are simple and joyful, which makes them effortlessly catchy. And it’s not about showing off your singing talent, but the joy of being with family and friends.
In Poland, exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve is one of the youngest customs related to Christmas, though likely the most anticipated by kids. The youngest members of families are getting hyperactive shortly after dinner as they eagerly expect gifts placed under the Christmas tree.
One of the principal reasons we have the custom of exchanging gifts at Christmas is to remind us of the gifts given to Jesus by the Wise Men.
What is on the table? It’s not an easy task to prepare 12 dishes for Christmas Eve, but Poles break their necks to get everything ready. Twelve dishes symbolize 12 apostles. The meals should be meatless, and they may vary depending on the region, though many are universal, like borscht with dumplings, carp, or compote of dried fruits.
The custom of not eating meat on this day is almost exclusively a Polish tradition and derives from the beliefs of our pagan ancestors, according to which man and animal constitute one family. Today, fasting on Christmas Eve depends on the household.
The real treat of this magical evening are cakes and desserts. Oh, tell me, who doesn’t love mouthwatering gingerbread, poppy seed cake, or shortbread cookies. The smell of those delicacies fills houses on Christmas Eve, providing a remarkable atmosphere.
After spending meaningful and joyful time with their families, Poles head to the midnight mass called “pasterka” at the local church.
December 25 & 26
On these days, families across the country set off to visit loved ones, faraway relatives, or friends. It’s a perfect time for a celebration, getting-together, and restarting feast that began on Christmas Eve.
There are plenty of leftover Christmas dishes and sweets to eat till very late. Those days are typically sluggish days spent laughing, drinking booze, and overindulging in food.
But this is what really should be about, complete reset from a day-to-day routine, 9-5 jobs, and everyday problems.
Not all of us like to decorate the house, cook or pack gifts; thus, some of the families spend Christmas in the mountains free from all this Christmas madness. They often book a stay in a luxurious hotel with a spa, a cozy wooden house with a fireplace, or an inexpensive guesthouse.
Such a stay in the mountains de-stresses, and rather of plunging into a pre-Christmas craze, you get an opportunity to keep yourself active when winter sports madness is underway. Snow on the slopes creates a magical atmosphere, and the views are breathtaking.
The most popular winter locations like Zakopane, Szczyrk, or Wisla have many things to offer, from sleigh rides, thermal baths, to even snow-tobogganing. You can taste delicious regional dishes, sit by the fireplace drinking a cup of mulled wine, and listen to a piece of live music played by a traditional highlander band.
Are you ready for the magical atmosphere of Christmas spent in the polish mountains? For crunching snow under the shoes, crackling fire in the fireplace, or bubbles in the jacuzzi?
All you have to do is let yourself be carried away by the heart and embark on an extraordinary journey.
Kissing under the mistletoe
I couldn’t resist writing about this old custom. It is believed that a kiss on the lips of a loved one under the mistletoe has magical powers! From then on, you sealed forever!
After each kiss, the man’s job is to pick one mistletoe fruit. If he collects them all, he can count on an abundant year in terms of love. It’s also almost certain that he can expect offspring soon.
After Christmas, the mistletoe should be dried and stored until the following year. Thanks to this, love will last the whole year, and your family will live in harmony, health, and happiness.
Wesolych Swiat! Happy Christmas, Everyone!