In Poland, Christmas is officially known as Bozz Narodzenie, though it is most often referred to as Gwiazdka, meaning "little star." Christmas Eve in Poland is a time of family gathering and reconciliation. The day before Christmas sees the women of the household cleaning and sweeping the entire house. The Christmas Eve supper is an event of great enjoyment and high anticipation. A traditional Christmas Eve supper consists of 12 dishes. Each dish has to be sampled carefully before laying out before the diners. An ancient belief has it that the more one eats during Christmas Eve supper, the more pleasure awaits him in the future.
An elaborate Polish Christmas tradition is "Wigilia", a strict 24-hour fast that begins on Christmas Eve and ends with a huge Christmas feast. In honor of the star of Bethlehem, the meal cannot begin until the first star of night appears. Once it comes to view, a special rice wafer blessed by the parish priest called "oplatek", is broken into pieces and shared by all. It is then that the meal can begin. The feast consists of twelve courses, one for each Apostle. The table is always set with a seat kept as extra in case a stranger or the Holy Spirit should appear to share the meal. This is an age-old tradition practiced in the country.
Another ancient tradition, observed before the invention of electricity, was the blowing out of candles after the consumption of the last supper dish and observing the direction that the smoke from the extinguished candles went. It was believed that if the smoke moved towards the window the harvest would be good that year, a family member would die if it went towards the door and a marriage of a family member would take place if it moved toward the stove. Customs to ensure a betrothal or good harvest were, in fact, a major part of rural Polish Christmas time traditions. Today, most of the old traditions are observed as fun and little importance is given to them.
Christmas in Poland is also a time for magic. In old days, Dec. 24 was held to be a day to mark the beginning of a new era. An ancient saying went: "As goes Christmas Eve, goes the year." Hence, in the hope for a good year, everyone was polite and generous to one another and forgave past grievances.
Till recently, harvest fortune-telling was very popular in the countryside. Few people today are familiar with Christmas Eve fortune telling, particularly urban dwellers. Yet some old traditions can still be found among village people who tend to lead a more old-fashioned lifestyle, closely connected to nature and its cycles of death and rebirth.