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The Catholic Tradition of Christmas in Poland

What are Christmas Celebrations Like in Poland?

All nationalities, countries and cultures have their own festivals and ways to celebrate them. In Poland, especially for Chrześcijanie or Katolicy (Christians or Catholics), two greatest and most important festivals are Boże Narodzenie (Christmas) and Wielkanoc (Easter).

In this article, I would like to present customs, traditions and the very idea of Christmas in Poland.

Christmas in Poland

As I have just written, Boże Narodzenie (Christmas) is one of the most celebrated festivals. It is preceded by four weeks of Adwent (Advent) meaning awaiting for the birth of Jezus Chrystus (Jesus Christ). During this period children attend Roraty (a special mass in church in memory of Mary) which are either early in the morning or in the evening depending on the church.

Christmas practically begins on December 24 which is called Wigilia or Gwiazdka (Christmas Eve). On this day we do not eat any mięso (meat). It is time for children and their parents to stroić or ubierać choinkę (decorate the Christmas tree) – it is either sztuczna (artificial) or żywa/prawdziwa (real). We put special small światełka or lampki (lights or lamps) and different kinds of various bombki (Christmas glass balls) and ozdoby choinkowe (Christmas decorations). On the top, there is anioł (an angel) or gwiazda (a star). We can also decorate our tree with srebrne or złote łańcuchy (silver or gold chains), wata (cotton wool) or lameta (tinsel).

In this period, we have a special szopka or stajenka (nativity set) with the figures of Święta Rodzina z Nazaretu (the Holy Family of Nazareth), pastuszkowie (shepherds) and the animals that were present when Jesus was born: owce (sheep), woły (oxen), osioł (donkey) and krowy (cows). It sometimes contains the figures of Trzej Królowie (the Three Magi): Kacper, Melchior, and Baltazar (Casper, Melcher and Balthazar) who came to oddać pokłon (bow) in front of newborn Jesus. These szopki (nativity sets) are both at homes and in churches.

In the afternoon, we decorate the tables with biały obrus (white table-cloth), świeczki (candles), serwetki (napkins) and of course zastawa stołowa (crockery). We have also a custom to put siano (hay) under obrus (the table-cloth) commemorating the fact that Jesus was born on the hay in żłób (manger); there is always dodatkowe nakrycie (additional plate) for somebody who may knock on our door, be poor, homeless and hungry. Some families wieszają jemiołę (hang mistletoe) and there is a custom that when two people meet under it they must pocałować się (kiss each other).

When pierwsza gwiazda (the first star) appears in the sky, we begin kolacja/wieczerza wigilijna (Christmas Eve supper). Traditionally, it should consist of dwanaście dań (twelve dishes) as there were dwunastu Apostołów (twelve Apostles), but this is not always the case. The most common dishes are:

- karp (carp) – smażony (fried) or w galarecie (in aspic)

- barszcz wigilijny z uszkami (Borscht with special kinds of dumplings with meat and mushrooms)

- zupa grzybowa (mushroom soup)

- kapusta z grochem (sauerkraut with peas)

- pierogi z kapustą (ravioli with cabbage)

- kompot z suszonych śliwek (compote made of dried plums)

- kutia (a sweet grain pudding made of wheat, poppy seeds, honey, nuts, raisins and almonds)

- makówki (poppy-seed dish with milk, raisins, nuts, almonds)

Of course, every Polish region has its own traditional dishes – as I live na Śląsku (in Silesia – in the south of Poland), I have described the ones we usually have.

Before kolacja/wieczerza wigilijna (Christmas dinner), we take opłatek (Christmas wafer) and we say wishes to the people present at this special dinner breaking a small part of it. A lot of Polish families also practice the custom of modlitwa (prey) or czytanie fragmentu o Narodzeniu Jezusa z Pisma Święgo/Biblii (reading the fragment about the Birth of Jesus in the Bible).

After kolacja/wieczerza wigilijna (Christmas Eve supper), children cannot wait to dostać i rozpakować prezenty (get and unpack presents) which are usually put under choinka (Christmas tree). Depending on the region the presents may also be brought by: Święty Mikołaj (Santa Claus), Gwiazdor (the Star Man), Aniołek (Angel) or Dzieciątko (Infant Jesus). In addition, families śpiewają kolędy (sing Christmas carols).

O północy (at midnight), there is a special nabożeństwo (service) called Pasterka (Midnight Mass) which begins Boże Narodzenie (Christmas Day). this day is also known as Pierwszy Dzień Bożego Narodzenia (the First Day of Christmas) and is celebrated by uroczysty obiad świąteczny (ceremonial Christmas dinner). It is sometimes organized by the whole family so that there are a lot of people present. Very often, however, people just stay at home, rest, relax and watch TV.

W Drugi Dzień Świąt Bożego Narodzenia (on Boxing Day) we go to church as well, have dinner and in the afternoon it is time to visit our relatives to finish Christmas.

It is said that Polish Christmas is one of the best celebrated in the world. Poland has the great number of customs and traditions too that are connected with this festival.

Since polskie kolędy (Polish carols) belong to one of the most beautiful of all languages, I would like to present the most known one that has been translated to many languages:

And there are two versions of the Silent Night carol in Polish:

Cicha Noc, Święta Noc (Silent Night - Version I)

1. Cicha noc, święta noc,
Wszystko śpi atoli.
Czuwa Józef i Maryja.
Niech więc Boska ich Dziecina
W błogim pokoju śpi,
W błogim pokoju śpi.

2. Cicha noc, święta noc,
Tobie cześć chcemy nieść.
Boś pastuszkom oznajmiony
Przez anielskie Alleluja.
Jezu, witamy Cię,
Jezu, witamy Cię.

3. Cicha noc, święta noc,
Boże nasz, serca masz.
Radość sprawia nam nowina,
że nadeszła godzina,
W którejś narodził się,
W którejś narodził się.

Cicha Noc, Święta Noc (Silent Night - Version II)

1. Cicha noc, święta noc,
Pokój niesie ludziom wszem.
A u żłobka Matka Święta,
Czuwa sama uśmiechnięta
Nad dzieciątka snem,
Nad dzieciątka snem.

2. Cicha noc, święta noc,
Pastuszkowie od swych trzód
Biegną wielce zadziwieni
Za anielskim głosem pieni.
Gdzie się spełnił cud,
Gdzie się spełnił cud.

3. Cicha noc, święta noc,
Narodzony Boży Syn.
Pan wielkiego majestatu,
Niesie dziś całemu światu
Odkupienie win,
Odkupienie win.