16 Facts About Christmas Traditions In Poland

Ho, ho, ho, ho! Santa Claus is coming to town! Or… is he? Apparently, not everywhere.

I suppose all countries have their own versions of popular holidays, making them unique and different from other places. In terms of Christmas, Poland has a lot of traditions, most of which you most likely won’t find anywhere else. Here’s a list of fun facts for you! A quick little read for this busy weekend, presumably full of hectic preparations.

1. Santa Claus comes on the 6th of December. He only brings little gifts, typically sweets for children. (That’s right, there are two occasions to exchange gifts in December!)

2. If you’ve been naughty, Santa will bring you coal instead. Or potato peels.

3. The biggest part of Christmas traditions takes place on December 24th.

4. We exchange Christmas presents on December 24th after the festive supper and they’re said to be brought by Baby Jesus. (At least in my region. In other parts of Poland Christmas gifts can be brought by someone – or something – else, like an Angel, a Star or Father Frost – it’s never Santa though, cause he comes on the 6th of December – see point #1. 😉 )

5. On Christmas Eve, we celebrate with a festive supper. There have to be at least 12 dishes on the table, and you’re supposed to try a bit of everything.

6. So what’s on the table on Christmas Eve? The most common foods include fish (namely carp), beetroot soup (borscht – or “barszcz” in Polish) with dumplings filled with cabbage and mushrooms, cabbage and mushrooms as a side, and for dessert you’re very likely to have makówki – a sweet poppy seed & nuts & raisins dish.

7. Although the Christmas Eve supper is a real feast, there’s usually no meat included. Poland has strong bonds with Christian traditions (Catholic, to be specific), and in Catholicism, Christmas Eve is a day of fasting, when meat is not allowed. Fish doesn’t count as meat in terms of Catholic fasting though, that’s why they’re the most common part of Christmas Eve supper.

8. Before we start the Christmas Eve feast, we exchange wishes for the following year with everyone present at the table. We do it in a very special way. Everyone holds an opłatek in their hand – a very thin, white wafer, typically made out of flour and water. After exchanging wishes with someone, you break off a little piece of their “opłatek” and eat it, and they take a bit of yours.

christmas-wafer-oplatek
opłatek

9. Our Christmas Eve table always has an extra empty spot – a place to sit and a set of crockery and cutlery. It’s said that the spot is prepared for a lost wanderer, a stranger who might need shelter and food. It’s to commemorate the fact that there was no place for Mother Mary and Saint Joseph in any of the inns, and Baby Jesus was placed in a manger after he was born.

10. Speaking of which – the fact that Baby Jesus was born in, presumably, a stable of some kind, is commemorated by putting a little bit of hay under the tablecloth for the duration of our Christmas Eve supper.

11. Christmas Eve supper, traditionally, is supposed to start when the first star can be seen on the sky after dusk (it’s the middle of winter, so the sun sets around 4pm). It’s usually children’s job to observe the sky and try to spot that first star.

12. Although our most prominent Christmas traditions take place on the 24th of December, that day is actually – in theory – a working day, and most people have to use one of their holidays to have it off work – as long as their job allows that and provided that they want to, of course (which most people certainly do). Official bank holidays fall on the 25th and 26th of December, which are usually spent among your relatives, but there are no distinct traditions on those days – just plenty of festive food.

13. Traditionally, we’d put up the Christmas tree on the 24th of December. In reality it’s usually a few days before that date (there’s enough work to be done on Christmas Eve day), but nowhere near as early as some other countries do (end of November even?!). This doesn’t apply to shopping malls and town centres – these start the commercial holiday around the middle of November, as you’d expect.

14. Because we put up our Christmas trees a bit later than some other countries, we also keep them for longer – until the 2nd of February (that’s when Christmas season officially ends in Catholic Church).

15. Those who attend religious services at the church may choose to attend a midnight mass after the Christmas Eve supper. It’s very festive, full of caroling, and despite the late hour those midnight masses are usually crowdly attended.

16. The last fun fact is a fairly new, modern tradition, but a fairly strong one too. On Christmas Eve, in the evening, there’s always Home Alone on one of our biggest TV channels. Always. They tried to break the tradition a few years ago and announced they wouldn’t be broadcasting Home Alone on Christmas Eve that year… thousands of people signed an online petition against that idea as a result and the TV channel had to change their mind. They haven’t tried to change it since that time. This year too there will be Home Alone on TV at 8pm on Christmas Eve. And to be honest, I don’t care that I know the whole film by heart, after watching it at least 20 times – I’m going to watch it again and I’m going to laugh just like I did back when I watched it for the first time.

How surprising did you find this list? Is there anything you found particularly queer? Or maybe some of these traditions are similar in your countries (I know that celebrating Christmas Eve is a thing in some other places too)?

I hope you enjoyed this little list of fun facts. Let me know what interesting Christmas traditions you have in your countries, I would love to learn something new and construct a list regarding Christmas traditions around the world. Let’s see how many different versions of Christmas there are!

You may also like to read:

How To Have A Healthy Christmas

5 Health Benefits of Christmas Food

Gingerbread Spiced Disaster – How To Survive Festive Time

Annual Christmas Cookie Decor 2018 – Recap

 

33 thoughts on “16 Facts About Christmas Traditions In Poland

  1. I enjoyed this so much. So interesting!!! The Oplatek idea is SO nice. I’m from the UK, we celebrate Christmas on the 25th but this is my first year living in Sweden and they celebrate on Christmas Eve like you! Reading this has made me realise how commercialised it is in the UK as even catholics (I grew up catholic) don’t do any of these traditions, it’s all about Santa and presents, it isn’t very religious at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, in all honesty, most of those traditions come so naturally we don’t actually think about their origin all that much. But yes, Poland is a much more religious country than the UK, so the religious aspect of the holiday is still pretty strong, despite the commercialization. The Opłatek thing is indeed quite nice, it makes you think what you actually want to wish everyone individually, you can’t just throw a random, depersonalized ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ and hope that it does the job. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed your post because I love to learn about other cultures. I especially like the tradition of leaving one seat empty to remember there was no room for Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed this post! I love to learn about other cultures myself, so I thought someone out there might find this quick post interesting. 🙂
      Merry Christmas!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh really? I knew that Santa comes early to some other European countries too, but didn’t know that Hungary was one of them! Thanks for educating me! 🙂

        Like

  3. Thank you for sharing this!! It’s interesting to read since I’m in the USA and our tradition is a bit different. I love the tradition of leaving one seat empty.
    I’m watching Home Alone as I read this!! 😁 Merry Christmas!!

    Like

  4. Very interesting read! I’m from Australia so we celebrate on the 25th and I don’t think we really have many traditions.. we have Santa and Christmas lunch – which is kind of funny that we have a hot roast lunch even though it’s Summer here. I’m one of the weirdos who puts the tree up as early as possible haha! Right at the end of November, but it is taken down in the beginning of Jan.
    Now that I’m a mum I’m trying to start my own traditions, including a Christmas eve present for the boys which consists of pyjamas, hot chocolate and a book because I love the idea of doing something the night before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The idea of having Christmas in summer seems so surreal to me! But to be honest, any time is good for roast dinner 😀 . I love the idea of building family traditions, it creates beautiful memories that stay with us till the end of our lives. ❤

      Like

    1. Oh that’s a great question, thank you for asking!
      I’ve not heard of anyone making it at home, but I’m sure it’s possible. They’re usually sold in churches, but you can also find volunteers from various charities in shopping centres, exchanging opłatek for donations. I’ve never thought about it, but it’s really interesting that an item every single person uses at Christmas isn’t sold in regular shops. Or at least it would be extremely odd to see it on a supermarket shelf.

      Like

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