Today in a month we will celebrate Christmas. Thought to share with you some Polish Christmas traditions. There will be a special touch on traditions from the Silesia region as it’s the place where I come from. Well, we do some stuff differently or maybe it’s just my family.
Noticed that each country has its special Christmas traditions. In the US a roasted turkey as the main dish that is eaten on Christmas Eve. In Germany it’s a roasted goose and a roast pig in the Philippines. Poland is not different. We have our Christmas traditions, dishes and activities. It’s similar in most Poland however there are regional variations. I come from the Silesia region, which is in south Poland. The Silesia region was part of Germany in the past and I presume some of the German Christmas traditions influenced Silesian culture. Let’s take a closer look shall we?
It’s typical that before the 24th of December we do a proper deep clean of our house. We look into every corner and clean it carefully. I really hated that piece of the Christmas preparations.
My Mum always forced me to remove dust from places that nobody would ever notice, like those little slits in the kitchen cupboards. With time I figured how to avoid nasty housework. I told my Mum that I have lots of stuff to do for school. You know prepare for tests, write essays or do some mandatory reading. Well, I exaggerated a bit with the amount of stuff but I’d rather sit in my room and read a book than mop the floors.
Of course one of the highlights were Christmas lights outside and the Christmas tree inside 😀 I absolutely loved that bit. Think Dad didn’t… Mum was always yelling at him. Apparently there were not enough lights and some of the light balls were burned out. Plus our neighbours had already put out their Christmas lights and we were lagging behind… yeah… my Mum and her extraordinary ability to pressure everybody around. Eventually she was happy as Dad and I hung all the lights in those exact places she had in mind. Nevertheless I loved doing that 🙂 Another thing was decorating the Christmas tree. In some parts of Poland, the tree gets decorated in the morning of the 24thDecember. In our house the Christmas tree got decorated two weeks before Christmas. It was the event I couldn’t wait for when I was a kid. Not sure why but the decorations like the balls and the garlands were gold colour. Hmm when I think about it now, Donal Trump would love it.
Nowadays in most cities in Poland you can see beautiful Christmas lights, decorations and Christmas trees on the main market squares. Even the biggest amusement park – Energylandia prepared a Winter Kingdom theme. Going there next week to see how it looks.
What I really like are the Christmas markets. You can buy all sorts of handmade decorations, sweets and mulled wine. Size wise they can’t be compared to the Christmas Markets in Germany or Austria but still… better to have a small Christmas Market than none.
3. Shopping and presents
The fridge had to be stocked with food, same as the wine and sweets cabinet. There was a clear division between normal food and the food that was bought for Christmas. In case you thought to eat the special products before the 24th December the most common answer was – leave it for Christmas. Now that’s a thing I didn’t understand and I still don’t understand it. What’s the point… even if you eat that special ham before Christmas you can always buy it again… the supermarkets won’t run out of it. Anyways, fuck logic. Of course presents and shopping for presents was a must. That always was a tricky bit as in Poland we get presents twice in December. Firstly, for St. Nicolaus day on the 6th and then for Christmas. If you are as bad at buying presents as me, every year it was a struggle what to get the family. When I was a kid I was saving my pocket money to buy something nice for my parents and grandparents. Mostly it was cosmetics or socks or jewellery. Now I prefer to send Mum and Dad for a SPA day as a Christmas gift or bring them something interesting from my Christmas travels… like local wine.
Question is who in Poland brings the gifts? That depends on the region. It’s for example Santa, The Little Star, The Little Angel, The Star Man or Father Frost. In Silesia it always was Little Baby Jesus. Same as in some parts of Germany… told ya, there are German influences in the Silesia region. The presents are unpacked after the festive Christmas Eve dinner. That means when you are a kid you can’t wait for dinner to finish so that you can finally open your presents 😉 I mostly got books, jigsaw puzzles and useful stuff like a rucksack or clothes for Christmas. Somehow my parents didn’t want to spend money on impractical things. Long term that was not a bad approach. Even now I prefer to get practical gifts like vouchers, books or dive gear 😀
Not a secret that food is the most important piece of all Christmas traditions. Let’s be frank there would be no Christmas without all those Christmas specialities. When it comes to Poland we have twelve traditional dishes.
Twelve to represent Jesus’s followers. Had to google some of those. The dishes varied depending on the article. However, those twelve would be: beetroot soup, mushroom soup, dumplings with cabbage and mushrooms, cabbage with mushrooms, fried carp, fish Greek style (no idea what that is), herring in sour crème, poppy dumplings, poppy cake, gingerbread cake, dried fruit juice, wheat berry pudding. It’s not a coincidence that there are no meat dishes. During the 24th December we don’t eat meat, only fish, dairy and vegetables. Only three out of those twelve dishes matched with what we had for Christmas Dinner at my parents’ house. My Mum used to prepare: white bean soup, fried carp, sauerkraut salad, mashed potatoes, cheesecake, dried fruits, herrings in sour crème or oil, dried fruit juice and a dessert made out of challah, poppy and raisins. We never had cabbage dishes or dumplings. To be frank, the first time I had dumplings was when I moved to Krakow. At home in Silesia we didn’t eat that. Wired I know. Especially that the first dish that comes to your mind when you hear Poland is DUMPLINGS. Anyway there is one food tradition common for the whole of Poland. Before we start eating we break a wafer between us and exchange Christmas wishes. We also have a tradition to send wafers to family members who live abroad. When I lived in Hong Kong my Mum did send me a wafer with some mistletoe. Well, the package spent some weeks at customs but eventually it got delivered. There are also a couple of set phrases you hear while sitting behind the table.
– Eat some more
– No thanks I’m full
– sSo you don’t like it
– No everything is delicious
– So take more <facepalm>
– Don’t touch it. It’s for Christmas
and after Christmas
– Eat, we can’t waste food
Third after you are full as hell
– You want some cheesecake?
Christmas in Poland is mostly about eating… and eating even more. What’s also interesting is that at my parents’ house for the past twenty years we had a cheese fondue for breakfast on the 24th December. In the evening we had the special Christmas dinner and in the following days we ate whatever was available in the fridge. After Christmas Eve Dinner Mum couldn’t be bothered to cook. No wonder. Of course the constant sentence you can hear is – are you hungry 😛
5. All around the church
As Poland is a catholic country many Christmas traditions circle around the church. There are four special Advent services and a midnight service in the night from the 24th to 25th December.
During that service the priest puts a baby Jesus figure into the crib and people sing carols. The Church is nicely decorated with Christmas trees and stars of Bethlehem flowers and everywhere you can smell myrth. As a kid I liked looking at the crib and how it was prepared. Now I don’t go to church anymore. Anyway, for many people in Poland Christmas is mostly about Church celebrations. For my parents it’s somehow tradition to go to church on the 25thand 26th December. Some churches organise special Christmas carol concerts or plays for whole families. Think that’s nice, especially in smaller towns. People have a reason to leave the house and go for a walk.
6. Other traditions… mostly practiced in my family
There is no Christmas without watching Home Alone! I’m deeply serious. I have watched Home Alone each year since 1993. Once a polish TV station announced that they don’t plan to include Home Alone in the Christmas framework. The Polish people were outraged. Eventually the TV station brought Home Alone back. I know it might sound funny but despite watching this movie so many times I simply love it. BTW, I wish my parents would take me to Paris for Christmas 😉
Again there is no Christmas without lebkuchen – gingerbread cookies. I absolutely love them. Every time I’m in Bavaria I buy lots of them as Bavaria is the only place where I can buy lebkuchen all year round. Yeah I could order them online but it’s not the same.
My Mum used to say that during Christmas you need to crack all sorts of nuts to attract good luck and money. Well not sure how much truth is in it but I always cracked nuts during Christmas even when I was spending Christmas alone in foreign countries.
Money under the plate
During Christmas Eve dinner we put money under the plate. After dinner the money is placed in the wallet and you are not allowed to spend it till next Christmas. That is supposed to bring good fortune to your finances. Again, I do it every year. Once I lost my two euro coin after Christmas Eve dinner in Indonesia and somehow was short on money the whole year
That’s a bit of a creepy tradition. After Christmas Eve dinner when you blow out the candles you should pay attention if the candle smoke goes up or down. If it goes down it means that someone from your closest family will die in the coming year. If it goes up everybody will live. Now that’s a tradition I don’t really like and I’m not practising it.
With all that said… I can’t wait for Christmas!