As we say farewell to Christmas in the Philippines, we now travel north wets for 9,726km to Poland.
Covering an area of 312,696 square km, Poland is located in central Europe. Poland has a population of over 37 million people
Poland has given us many famous names - Nicolaus Copernicus (mathematician and astronomer), Marie Curie (physicist and chemist, famous for her work with radioactivity), Pope John Paul II, Frédéric Chopin (composer) and many more.
Poland is an extremely religious country - one of the most religious in Europe, it is claimed. As well as celebrating a person's birthday, they also celebrate their name day - this is the saint's day of the saint they were named after.
So, how do they celebrate Christmas in Poland?
Christmas is celebrated on 25th December in Poland.
There's no official religion in Poland but around 87% of the people are Catholic.
Straw may be put on the floor of the dining room or under the table cloth during the main Christmas meal to symbolise the stable where Jesus was born. Christmas Trees are brought in and decorated on Christmas Eve. A star is usually placed on the top of the tree and gingerbread pieces, lights, and ‘bombki’ (baubles and glass ornaments of different shapes, usually handmade) decorate the main body of the tree.
In the east, decorations are traditionally made of straw. In some parts of Poland, an artificial spider’s web may decorate the tree to remember the story of the ‘Christmas Spider’. There’s also a tradition, in some households, to break a Christmas tree decoration to scare the evil out of the house. Mistletoe may also be hung from ceilings and door frames.
During advent, many people will remain from doing things in excess (e.g. give up their favourite food, not host/go to any parties) and many will frequently go to church. There are special dawn masses called ‘roraty’ which are dedicated to Mary receiving the news of her pregnancy from Gabriel. People clean their houses ready for Christmas, including cleaning their windows and washing their carpets. School children often perform nativity plays (‘Jasełka’) in the build up to Christmas, some of which are reimagined to be set in the modern day. The smell of tangerines in schools and workplaces is supposed to symbolise the beginning of Christmas.
Christmas Eve is called Wigilia and people traditionally dress in their best festive clothes for the day. The meal on Christmas Eve is typically only eaten once the first star can be spotted in the sky and so the children often look out for it. In central Poland, there’s a myth that at midnight on Christmas Eve, animals can talk.
The carp’s scales from the main Christmas meal are often kept (usually in wallets) for the whole year as they’re supposed to bring good luck. An empty place is usually left at the table during the main Christmas meal for either a relative who couldn’t make it or for anyone who may knock on the door as Polish people believe no one should be alone on Christmas.
Christmas presents can’t be opened until after the Christmas Eve meal which is started and ended by the older member of the family, after the meal carols are typically sung which are sometimes dragged out just to tease the children who want to open presents.
At midnight on Christmas Eve, many people will go to a midnight mass service. Santa Claus (‘Święty Mikołaj’) is said to bring presents in some parts of Poland, other areas have their own present-bringers such as Dziadek Mróz (Ded Moroz) in the east , and Gwiazdor (the Starman) in the north and west. The days after Christmas Eve (Christmas Day and Boxing Day) are spent with family. In Poland, there’s a tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.
Some people will fast on Christmas Eve until sunset. The main Christmas meal is eaten on the evening of Christmas Eve and is called ‘Kolacja wigilijna’ (meaning Christmas Eve supper). The meal consists of 12 different dishes which are all traditionally meat free, and everyone has to at least try every dish. Beetroot soup (barszcz) is considered to be one of the most important dishes and everyone’s supposed to have it (if you can’t have it, then mushroom soup can be a substitute). ‘Uszka’ (little dumplings with mushrooms) and ‘krokiety’ (pancakes with mushrooms or/and cabbage, in breadcrumbs, fried on oil or butter) are popular sides to have with the soup. Carp is often the main dish (traditionally this was brought alive, left to swim the home’s bath for a few days, and then killed by the lady of the house). Herrings served in oil, cream or jelly is a common dish.
A popular drink to have is ‘kompot z suszu’ which is a drink made from boiled dry fruits and fresh apples.
The most popular desserts to the Christmas Eve meal are ‘makowiec’ (poppy seed roll made of sweet yeast bread), ‘kutia’ (mixed dried fruits, nuts, and wheat seeds), ‘piernik’ (moist cake made with honey), and gingerbread. To start the meal, a large wafer biscuit with a picture of Mary, Jesus and Joseph on it called an 'Oplatek’ is passed around the table and everyone breaks off a piece.
‘Bigos’ is also popular which is a dish that can be eaten hot or cold made of cabbage, bacon, and optional dried plums – as it has meat in it, it’s eaten on either Christmas Day or Boxing Day but prepared a week before Christmas Eve.
Our next Christmas destination looks at Christmas in Portugal.