Christmas Traditions in Poland
Christmas is undoubtedly the most joyful and wonderful time of year. For many people it’s practically impossible not to think of such things as the christmas tree, snowy weather, or exchanging wishes and gifts with their loved ones without smiling.
Polish people have many traditions associated with christmas. They cultivate them every year, but many of them probably don’t know what these traditions mean or where they come from.
Sharing the Christmas wafer – You might be surprised to learn Poland is the only country, that still cultivates the traditions of sharing the Christmas wafer before the Christmas Eve supper. The Polish word „oplatek” originated from the latin word „oblatum”, which means „sarificial gift”. The Christmas wafer is a kind of unleavened cake baked from wheat flour and water, in very thin pieces.
Leaving an empty place by the table – another interesting custom that makes Polish people proud is leaving an empty place by the Christmas Eve table. According to ancient, pre-Christian beliefs, an additional tableware reminded of soul of dead family members, which came to earth during the winter solstice. Today, the empty tableware reminds us that nobody should be alone on Christmas Eve and is strictly associated with Polish hospitality.
Decorating the Christmas tree – today, many people believe that the Christmas Tree is the most meaningful element of Christmas, This tree – most often spruce, pine or fir tree came to Poland in the late 19th and early 20th century. Originally, Christmas trees were standing in magnate and noble houses, and later began appearing in rural chambers. For Christians, the Christmas tree became a symbol of the paradise tree and hope for eternal life.
Nativity scenes – The tradition of creating nativity scenes in Poland, especially in Krakow, dates back to the 19th century. In the beginning, nativity scenes were created by craftsmen from the ourskirts of Krakow, especially from Krowodrza and Zwierzyniec. The oldest surviving nativity scene from Krakow can be found in the collection of the Etnographic Museum of Seweryn Udziela. This nativity scene was created by Michal Ezenekier in the second half of the 19th century
Carolling – Carolling was a familiar custom in the entire Europe, and its origins date back to the middle ages. Christmas carolers began walking from house to house at the end of Christmas Day or on st. Stephen’s Day, and they finished walking before the day of Candlemas Mother of God. A group of people wandered around the villages and visited local houses, greeting the hosts, singing carols and asking for a small donation, which was usually some food, or a small amount of money.
Christmas Eve dishes – There should be 12 dishes at the Christmas Eve table. Some people also say that an even number is enough but traditionally, there should be always 12 dishes. The dishes appearing on the table should be lenten, and the most typical ones include borsch with dumplings, dumplings with cabbage and mushrooms, and mushroom soup, as well as drought compote, kutia and the dish that is immediately associated with Christmas – the carp.
Hay under the tablecloth – Similar to the Christmas wafer, hay under the tablecloth is a custom older than Christmas. This tradition was adapted from pagan beliefs, where it was sacrificed to God. Currently, it symbolizes poverty of the Holy Family.
These are the most common Polish Christmas traditions. It’s definitely worth remembering and cultivating them, because that’s the way we give glory to our ancestors and their traditions.