Christmas Around the World — Poland
Christmas in Poland is all about family. As often as possible Christmas activities are done by the whole family together.
Modern Christmas trees, pajaki, did not appear in Poland until the 1800's. Early Polish Christmases did not see a Christmas tree. Instead elaborate, handmade mobiles were hung from the ceiling. In the 1800's in southern Poland tops of fir trees were cut and hung upside-down from the ceiling. This allowed for more room for the family while still giving them a chance to hang their ornate, handmade decorations. Once the custom of bringing whole Christmas trees into the house began the popularity of mobiles and upside-down trees waned until they finally disappeared. Christmas trees may be set up any time during Advent; but, traditionally, they are not set up until the afternoon of Wigilia, December 24. Many people do not take them down until the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady, February 2. Homemade garlands, paper cut-outs, apples, nuts, candy, and small cakes decorate the trees along with store-bought decorations, strings of electric lights, strings of peas, beans, and corn and blown-out egg shells painted with intricate designs.
Nativity scenes are often placed under the Christmas tree to be joined by the family's gifts later.
Creating and sending Christmas cards is becoming more popular in Poland. It provides the family a great time of making and sending Christmas cheer to friends and loved ones.
Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Like Advent celebrations in other parts of the world it is a time for reflection and fasting preparing oneself for the coming of the Christ child. A number of saints' days are celebrated during Advent, St. Martin on November 11, St. Catherine on November 25, St. Andrew on November 30, St. Barbara on December 4, St. Nicholas on December 6, St. Lucy on December 13, and St. Thomas on December 21.
On December 24 everyone prepares for Wigilia. Wigilia is considered the first of the twelve days of Christmas or Gody in Poland. The house is given a thorough cleaning with attention given to barns and other outbuildings as well. Many families also visit family graves placing evergreen boughs or small evergreen trees on them. Food preparation is also a major component of Wigilia. The scrumptious smells permeating the house test the piety of the household as they are still in a period of fasting. Hay is placed either under the tablecloth or as part of the centerpiece to commemorate Christ's birth in a stable. As evening draws near children make it a game to see who sees the first star to appear. The Wigilia feast starts with the appearance of the first star or 6:00 p.m. whichever comes first. The family enjoys many fish and/or vegetable dishes at this feast as eating meat is not allowed until Christmas day. After the feast, usually the eldest family member present reads the Nativity story followed by the family singing Christmas carols. Following the singing comes the gift-giving. Larger, more expensive gifts are for the children while smaller, more personalized gifts go to adults.
At midnight many families head to the church to attend Pasterka, Shepherd's Mass. After mass some families will spend the night visiting friends, neighbors, or relatives.
Christmas day is spent with the immediate family. Now that the fasting of Advent is over the main meal at Christmas, served in mid-afternoon, features lots of meat.
December 26, St. Stephen's Day, is almost treated like a second Christmas. Many families spend the day visiting friends and extended family members.
New Year's Eve, the seventh day of Christmas (Gody), is celebrated with loud parties with family or friends.
New Year's Day, also known as the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, is a day for playing tricks on friends and family members.
The twelfth day of Christmas (Gody) falls on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. This day commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Christ child.