Christmas in Poland is a cherished and deeply rooted holiday celebrated with rich traditions, religious observance, and a strong focus on family gatherings. It's one of the most significant and festive times of the year in Polish culture. Here's how Christmas is typically celebrated in Poland:
The Christmas season begins with Advent, a period of spiritual preparation for Christmas. Many Polish households have Advent calendars, and Advent wreaths with candles are common.
Christmas Eve is the most important day of the holiday season in Poland. It is marked by a festive family meal that takes place after the first star is seen in the evening sky. This meal is known as "Wigilia" and features a variety of traditional dishes, including barszcz (beet soup) with uszka (mushroom-filled dumplings), pierogi (dumplings), carp, herring, and kutia (a sweet grain dish). Twelve different dishes are traditionally served, symbolizing the twelve apostles.
Homes and churches are beautifully decorated with festive lights, ornaments, and nativity scenes. The Christmas tree is a central decoration and is typically adorned with traditional Polish ornaments, straw, and candles.
In some regions of Poland, it is customary to have a priest bless the Christmas tree at home before decorating it.
Before the Wigilia meal, family members share a special Christmas wafer known as "opłatek." They break off a piece of the wafer and offer it to one another, along with warm wishes and blessings for the coming year.
Singing Polish Christmas carols, or "kolędy," is an important part of the holiday. Families often gather to sing carols and share the joy of the season.
Attending the Midnight Mass (Pasterka) on Christmas Eve is a significant part of the celebration. The Mass is a time for religious reflection and worship.
While gift-giving is not as central to Polish Christmas traditions as it is in some other countries, small gifts or symbolic presents are sometimes exchanged on Christmas Eve. Saint Nicholas (Święty Mikołaj) is also a beloved figure who may bring gifts to children.
Traditional Polish Christmas cookies and sweets, such as pierniki (gingerbread), makowiec (poppy seed cake), and chrusciki (angel wings), are enjoyed during the holiday season.
Some Polish towns and cities host Christmas markets, known as "Jarmark Bożonarodzeniowy," featuring stalls selling gifts, crafts, and seasonal foods.
Elaborate nativity scenes, known as "szopki," are a unique Polish tradition. These displays often include figurines and scenes that are artistically and creatively arranged.
The holiday season in Poland extends into New Year's Eve, with fireworks, parties, and celebrations to welcome the new year.
Christmas in Poland is a time for faith, tradition, and family unity. The combination of religious customs, vibrant decorations, and a rich culinary heritage creates a warm and joyful atmosphere during the holiday season, making it a special time for both Poles and visitors to the country.
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.