As we have such a mix we find that we are rich in cultures and traditions. This makes special times of the year, Christmas especially, extremely interesting. We get to learn a lot about how different countries celebrate festive occasions. It’s amazing what we find out too. We therefore want to share our knowledge with you guys. We’ve had a little chat with Marta our HR Administrator and she has given us an insight into Christmas in Poland.
The festive fun starts with Advent, which is traditionally an important season in the Polish year. Special church services, known as Roraty were held at 6am every morning and the four Sundays of Advent are said to represent the 4,000 years of waiting for Christ.
During Advent some people pour bees wax or plain wax on water so fortunes can be told from the shapes that emerge. Special tasks are also carried out, such as baking Christmas piernik (gingerbread) and making decorations. Advent also sees the “gwiazdory", or star carriers, wandering through the towns and villages, sometimes singing carols, reciting verses or putting on puppet shows and nativity scenes. This would continue until Epiphany. Unfortunately, according to Marta, these traditions are fading and are only really retained in small villages nowadays.
Christmas Trees are decorated and lit in homes on the day of Christmas Eve and beautifully decorated trees are placed in public areas. Traditionally they were decorated with shiny apples, gift walnuts, wrapped up chocolate shapes and homemade decorations and candles. A star or other glittery feature sits on the top of the tree. In many homes, sparklers are hung on the branches of the trees and sometimes the trees are left standing until 2 February, which is the feast day of St Mary of the Candle of Lightning.
Christmas Eve, Wigilia, is the most significant part of the Polish Christmas as important rituals are celebrated on this day. Polish people fast throughout the day and then sit down to a large feast in the evening. Children watch the sky for the first star to appear and when it does the Wiglia feast can begin. The meal, which can last for hours, normally consists of fish (usually carp) and other traditional Polish dishes. No red meat is served. The feast begins with the breaking of an opłatek – a thin wafer into which a holy picture is pressed. Everyone at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol of their unity with Christ. They then share a piece with each family member. It is said that as each individual shares a piece of wafer, they are supposed to forgive family members for any previous wrongdoings and wish them happiness in the coming year.
Polish families partake in different traditions at meal time. Some spread hay beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger, while others place money under the tablecloth for each guest as a wish for prosperity in the coming year. Some families practice the superstition that an even number of people must be seated around the table and others set up a place at the table that is left empty. This empty space can symbolise different things. It can be for Baby Jesus, a lonely wanderer who may be in need of food or a deceased relative who may want to share the meal.
Once the meal is over there is an exchange of gifts and the evening is then full of stories and songs around the Christmas tree. Christmas Eve ends with Pasterka, the midnight mass at the local church.
Christmas Day is often spent visiting friends and family and although gifts are given, more emphasis is put on making special food and decorations.
So, there we have it. A quick round up of how Christmas is celebrated in Poland. Marta is going home for the festive period so perhaps if I ask her nicely she may bring back some photographs for us. Come on now Marta, don’t be a spoil sport :-)
We hope you learnt a little something from this post…see education can be fun! I’ll have to try and chat with some of the other guys to see how they celebrate Christmas in their countries as well. Until then, have a lovely few days and of course have a very merry Christmas. Hoooray!