Christmas in Poland: traditions, family, and… food

Polish Christmas traditions and celebrations

Christmas Eve (Wigilia), December 24

The most important Christmas celebration in Poland is the Christmas Eve Dinner – kolacja wigilijna

  • Starts in the late afternoon or in the evening, depending on a family (some people visit 2 or even more families during Christmas Eve, having 2 or more dinners). The tradition requires that the dinner can start only after the first star is visible in the sky. Kids keep looking out the window waiting for the first star (children want to start dinner as soon as possible to proceed after to the next part – Christmas gifts).
  • Dinner starts with sharing the Christmas wafer (opłatek – baked from wheat flour and water, usually rectangular). Each guest receives a piece of a wafer and then people share it with one another eating a piece of a wafer and making wishes (wishes usually refer to the previous and next year). There is also a special pink wafer for animals. The tradition says that animals are endowed with the power of human speech on Christmas Eve.
  • Another tradition is to have an extra seat (including a plate and cutlery) for an unexpected guest – someone in need, poor, lost, lonely or without family.
  • Under the tablecloth, we put some hay to remind guests that Jesus was born in a stable.
  • 12 courses (meat-free), including carp fish, beetroot soup, mushroom soup or fish soup, dumplings, cabbage with mushrooms, herring salad, boiled vegetable salad with mayonnaise dressing. Desserts are included in 12 courses: usually noodles with poppy seed, a dry fruit compote, poppy seeds cake (makowiec), gingerbread cookies.
  • Gifts are under the Christmas tree waiting for the dinner to be finished or with small children someone from guests is dressed up as Santa Claus (Mikołaj).
  • Besides Christmas Tree, houses can be decorated with mistletoe (jemioła) and spruce twigs.
  • After dinner, people attend a special midnight mass (pasterka) which ends the period of fasting and celebrates the birth of Jesus. Some families in Poland, after they come back home from church (the mass is very long, so usually it’s before 2 in the morning!) start another dinner – this time meat is allowed.

Christmas in Poland

Christmas Day (Boże Narodzenie) and Second Day of Christmas, December 25-26 (bank holidays)

  • People celebrate together with family and friends, they go to church, sing carols (kolędy), spend long hours at the table;)
  • It is worth visiting churches in the Old Town in Warsaw or any other city – each church builds its own unique nativity scene (szopka). Sometimes modern and metaphorical, sometimes just with lots of details that children will love, eg. animals, angels, different figures, ornaments. Churches in Poland are usually open during the day. When I was a kid (in Toruń) a tradition was that during Christmas we were visiting several churches admiring and comparing nativity scenes in each one.

“Wesołych Świąt i Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!”

We wish you a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

Click here to read about 14 ideas for outdoor & indoor holiday activities in Warsaw on December 23-26, 2017.

What to do in Warsaw during Christmas

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