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Christmas dinner setting, Source: Austin McGee on Wikimedia

Christmas traditions in Poland

Christmas traditions in Poland

Discover the traditional Christmas dishes, customs and habits of the Polish people

Christmas celebrations are the culmination of the annual cycle of festivities and accordingly, they occupy a very special place in the homes of Polish citizens. Traditionally, Christmas is celebrated with a range of family rituals.

What a Christmas dinner in Poland can't go without

To start with, we should mention that Christmas Eve is a time reserved for the closest family. First of all, on Christmas Eve the tree gets decorated by the whole family, which is a customary ritual since the 19th century, originating first in the cities, to later become widely popular across the country.

Polish houses would be decorated with green branches of fir, spruce or pine, as well as sheaves of wheat and rye, hay or straw. Usually, a handful of hay would be placed underneath the tablecloth, as well. Sometimes this is accompanied by placing a fish scale or a bone in the wallet as a token of prosperity.

In contrast to the low winter temperatures, Polish people are known as very warm and welcoming, a fact that can be observed on Christmas. There is a custom to put aside a portion of the Christmas meal and set a table aside for unexpected guests, which also serves to remind us of those who are no longer with us.

When the first star appears up in the sky, the holiday dinner will begin with a prayer, wishes and sharing a wafer called opłatek which symbolizes the holy bread. Normally, 12 meatless dishes are prepared for the evening and all ought to be tasted, as a reference to the twelve Apostles or the twelve months of the year.

You might already be familiar with some the typical dishes, eaten in Poland (and also Russia and Ukraine), such as mushroom soup (barszcz or borszcz), dumplings stuffed with onion and cheese (pierogi), and dried fruits drink (compote) or kutia, made of poppy seeds and boiled wheat with honey. However, it is essential for the festive dinner to have fish, preferably carp or pike. The dinner is complemented by carols, gifts exchanges, often by attending the Christmas Mass (Pasterka).

On Christmas Day, the extended family gathers together for another festive dinner. Do not be surprised if an unexpected visitor, disguised as a goat, a horse, a stork or even as Death calls on the doorbell during the following days. This will be a traditional caroler, coming to wish you happy holidays, in exchange for a small gift. Do not send him away; he brings the Star of Bethlehem and love and joy to your household.

 

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