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24 December 2015

A Christmas Tale | How It's Celebrated in Poland


Living in Ireland since the age of 7 taught me two things- 1) It's never an unsuitable time of the year to order hot choco and wear a woolly jumper 2) Out of all annoying questions I ever get asked, the cultural ones fascinate me the most.

Being asked about the lifestyle in Poland approximately twenty eight hundred times a year, I discovered how much in fact I am in love with the various traditions of different cultures and how passionate I am to hear (and talk) about them.

The main concept behind Christmas is obviously the same, but the traditions and rituals that follow vary quite a bit than to how its being celebrated in Ireland, UK, America etc.

So what exactly is the main difference?

The Christmas Day itself is nothing less festive than anywhere else, but in Poland it is in actual fact the 24th (i.e Christmas Eve) that plays the biggest deal. It is this evening that families gather together for a dinner and exchange gifts (yup, we open up presents on the 24th!)

According to, I suppose, the ''official'' tradition, the evening meal begins with the first star appearing in the sky, symbolizing the star of Bethlehem the three kings followed on the night of Jesus' birth. This obviously isn't something applied to nowadays, imagining sever weather conditions you could go to bed hungry, but I guess it's treated more as an excuse given to the inpatient kids who do nothing but disturb preparations in the kitchen.

The meal usually begins with a prayer, said by the head of a family and an exchange of holy bread. Now, I guess this probably sounds ridiculous but basically, to symbolize unity and exchange Christmas wishes, each family member shares the ''holy bread''. This is nothing more than a rectangular shaped, white, thinly cut wafer with decorations of sacred images like the angels, Jesus in a manger etc (and tastes really good btw).

We also have some of our traditional dishes, and it is said that there must always be exactly twelve of them on the dinner table, referring to the number twelve holding a significant meaning in Christianity and the twelve disciples. This is something that can be of a more or less importance depending on a household. Despite one particular tradition, it has actually been modified quite a lot in modern times in almost every family. In my family we never really have all 12 dishes as simply it's not necessary, however spending Christmas Eve at my aunt's or granny's it would be clear this is something they pay close attention to.

The day ends with a midnight mass, a two hour church celebration that not everyone is brave enough to undertake- not me anyways. It's not essential to go, and majority of people just attend the church the following morning.

Then what are some of the traditional dishes?
Some of the popular ones include; Beetroot/ fish/ mushroom soup, dumplings, carp, herring, cabbage with mushrooms, mushroom sauce, dried fruit juice (compote), pasta with poppy seeds, croquettes with cabbage and mushroom, poppy seed cake, gingerbread cake etc. Basically, a lot of fish, mushroom and poppy seeds! And yes, I do imagine that if you never had any of these before you might be going like ''ewww, what!?'' but trust me, as disgusting as they might sound they are absolutely delicious! Again, these vary a lot, and people tend to stick to dishes they like the most and exclude all other or modify recipes. The carp is probably one of the most horrific, smelliest, fishiest fish out there and for this reason we never serve it at our dinner.

What about the presents?
We open up gifts after the Christmas Eve dinner. We do believe in Santa (well... you know what I mean!), we leave cookies and milk out, we find them under the Christmas tree and the whole conspiracy behind it is exactly the same. When I was a kid and desperately forced myself (and others) to believe in father Christmas, our parents always placed out the goodies on the night of 23rd, so when we woke up in the morning they were already there (the excitement though). Now with all of us aware of who really buys the stuff and my sister being too young to comprehend, we could care less to wake up at 2 am just to bring downstairs few boxes. The santa cosplay is not unfamiliar either, with your biggest uncle coming in with a large sack of gifts after the meal. A lot of families put out the gifts only after the dinner is done and dusted with as it is ideal no one tears a present up until everyone finishes eating. Some have the gifts out long before the holidays begin,  and as I said, differs from one household to another.

And the 25th of December?
I like to call this ''the left over day''. Being stuffed with food from night before it's not surprising to skip breakfast and later on have dumplings and fish for lunch. But seriously, Christmas Day is as festive in Poland as anywhere else. Shops are closed and it's usually the day to visit your closer friends and distant families. A dinner is also a big thing this day, with no particular food requirements, a lot of people serve some of the more ''sophisticated'' meats, such as duck (or yes, even turkey). It's also probably one of the most relaxed days of the year, with majority of people watching Christmas movies or heading out for walks (if given the pleasure of white Christmas, sleighing and snow ball fights are the type of a chill out!)

Anything on St. Stephan's Day? 
The 26th (known also as the second day of Christmas) is just as festive as the 25th. However, with several businesses opened, skating and similar activities are common to pass the free time.

What's up with the 6th?
You might have heard that the polish also celebrate the 6th of December. This day is known as St. Nicholas' Day, who I suppose is kind of treated like father Christmas. Not many celebrate this day anymore however, and it's usually only the kids that would find little bits of sweets or small toys hidden in their shoes (or stockings).

Any other differences about the holiday?

- The decorations aren't as ''wow-ing''. We do decorate the streets and houses, but I think the amount and variety of ornaments and stuff available in the shops isn't as impressive as the ones here on the island. Everything is a lot more subtle and less ''fairy light-y'' over in Poland.

-Stocking are not as common. Majority of the stocking fillers can basically be found on the 6th, and due to this we don't technically hang up stockings for Christmas Day.

-Christmas Carols are a huge deal. I don't mean the classic old rock Christmas songs they turn on the radio throughout entire December, but genuine, religious, polish, Christmas carols. There's a lot of them, and we usually begin learning them in pre-school. They are popular to sing during Christmas concerts, mass and TV Christmas celebration shows. I'd say majority of people know them off by heart.

-The sales aren't as big. Basically, there's no such a thing as the Boxing Day. Obviously, major sales follow the Christmas season, but the prices are still not as low as you wish they were ;)

And yeah, this is basically how it looks in Poland :) I am super curious of hearing of how you celebrate Christmas weather you're from UK or The Philippines!


I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish you a very merry, peaceful and happy Christmas, following an unforgettable New Year. Hope you enjoy every single day and live it to the fullest!

Love,
Kinga xx





8 comments:

  1. I can totalny relate, as i also moved from poland when i was 7 , and know how it's like keep on getting asked about how Christmas and other occasions are celebrated. But anyway i love the post it just perfectly summarises Christmas in poland the differences between there and uk or Irleland.

    http://weronikadabek.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I wanted to relate back to our traditions since I sent this Christmas in Ireland so it was very enjoyable to write. Thank you for your comment :)

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  2. Your blog is so lovely!
    Want to share with you my new post - http://starlingdays.blogspot.com/2015/12/avon_29.html

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am France but I live in London and in France the 24th is the big celebration really too :)

    http://allornothing-blog.blogspot.co.uk/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never knew that, wow another reason for me to love France <3

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Thank you for stopping by. All your opinions and thoughts are super highly appreciated so let me know what you're thinking in the comments :)