Christmas Traditions in Poland

By Tatum Spicer

Christmas is a joyful holiday filled with family time, presents and delicious food. However, each country has its own unique traditions for celebrating the holiday. Here are some Christmas traditions which are unique to Poland and its citizens:

St Nicholas Day Traditions

St Nicholas Day on the 6th of December marks the start of the Christmas season for many Polish families. In Polish, ‘Mikolajki’ is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children. On this day children are given gifts, usually under their pillows, in a Christmas stocking or in a clean pair of shoes or boots. These are usually smaller gifts, as Saint Nicholas also visits Polish families on Christmas Eve as well.

Christmas Eve Food Traditions

‘Wigilia’ is the Polish Christmas dinner which typically occurs on the 24th of December.

A traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner consists of 12 courses:

  1. Borsht/Barszcz: a cabbage or mushroom soup
  2. Herring: 3 or 4 types in some households and each made differently
  3. Carp
  4. Fruit and nuts
  5. Bread
  6. Pierogi (dumplings) with potatoes and cottage cheese
  7. Cabbage and split peas
  8. Salatka warzywna; dwatka: a salad with veggies, carrots, potatoes, sometimes parsnip, leak, mayonnaise, etc.
  9. Dumplings with poppy seeds and vanilla sauce
  10. Kutia: a type of pasta with poppy seeds, raisins, and honey
  11. Makowiec: Poppy seed cake/roll
  12. Fruit compote

The eating traditions are fairly homogenous across Poland, with similar things on the table. However, in some regions they also serve Kutia – a type of pasta with poppy seeds, raisins, and honey. It is very sweet and sticky but very delicious. It is traditionally made in eastern Poland.

Carp often gets served on a Polish Christmas table too. Carrying a scale of it in your wallet is said to bring good luck. Some people keep the carp in the bathtub to keep it fresh. The reason it is kept in the bathtub is because people historically did not have fridges, so it was decided that it would be kept in the bathtub for a few days. People would come and feed it bread before someone in the family or neighbourhood would eventually have to kill it for the meal.

The compote is a stew of dried fruit which is served at the end of the meal. It is said to improve one’s metabolism after the 12 dishes. There is a superstition that you have to try every dish of the meal. Are you going to incorporate this list of food into your holiday traditions?

Christmas Day Traditions

On Christmas day, many spend the day in church. Some will fast during the day, while others will eat during breakfast and then at the dinner. Usually before dinner, the grandfather or eldest attendee will read from the bible before the commencement of the dinner and it is customary to wait for the first star to appear in the sky before initiating the meal.

For goodwill, some Polish people will put hay under the tablecloth, as well as breaking the wafer. They may speak to their animals or pets, and it is also customary to leave an empty space at the table with an empty plate. This is done for the “unknown traveller”; someone who might show up at your doorstep suddenly with nowhere to eat or sleep. There is usually the exchanging of gifts after the meal, cake, and tea. Lastly, some individuals and families will attend midnight mass.

Decorations and Music

In terms of decorations, some families buy fresh Christmas trees, others buy fake. People hang all sorts of decorations on the Christmas tree: cookies, chains, school decorations, cotton wool, the nativity scene, etc. Some Polish Christmas carols include: ‘Koledy’ – silent night, ‘Lulajze Jezuniu’, ‘Bog sie rodzi’. Some people will play a CD of Christmas carols in the background during the dinner.

What Polish Christmas traditions do you celebrate? Or do you have other Polish holiday traditions? Let us know on our Facebook page!

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