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Polish Christmas traditions

Last updated on November 24, 2019

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Christmas is probably the most important holiday for the Polish people. It is a magical time when everyone seems so much happier. Families gather together to share some memorable moments, exchange presents and follow Polish Christmas traditions.

Some countries like, for example, the UK run the main Christmas celebrations on 25th December. In Poland, the main events happen on the 24th. Even though it is not an official public holiday in Poland, many people stop working earlier on the day. The institutions close earlier so that everyone can get home on time for the family dinner.

I have to admit that for me, it is also my favorite time in the year! Everything seems so much more peaceful, and everyone is so happy. There seems to be this overall feeling of giving back and sharing the good mood 🙂

What makes this celebration so special are also the traditions that are still cultivated in the Polish houses. So, let’s talk about some of them:

Christmas tree decoration

All Polish families have a Christmas tree in their home. More and more often we buy fresh Christmas trees which leaves this beautiful smell in the whole house. The latest tendency in Poland is to buy trees in the flowerpots with soil. It is great as after the festivity period, you can plant the tree back onto the soil.

Christmas in Poland won’t go without a beautifully decorated tree. It is great fun, especially for the younger family members. Children run to place colorful baubles, chains, and lights on the tree and finally some star or similar decoration on the top.

12 dishes on the table

The tradition calls for preparing 12 meals for the Christmas Eve dinner. It is probably one of the most important Polish Christmas traditions. Twelve dishes have a symbolical meaning. It symbolizes 12 apostles as well as 12 months of the year.

Twelve dishes might slightly differ depending on the region in Poland; however, many of them are universal. What is cultivated in my house includes the following items:

  • pierogi with mushrooms and sauerkraut
  • pierogi Russian style with potatoes and onion
  • braised sauerkraut
  • golabki (cabbage rolls)
  • kutia – an ancient dessert. It is a mixture of cooked, unprocessed wheat grains, cooked poppy seeds, honey, dried or candied fruits soaked in a small amount of port or red wine.
  • Polish gingerbread
  • dried fruit compote
  • makowiec (poppy seed cake)
  • red borscht
  • carp
  • mushroom soup
  • herring

As you can see, we rather avoid eating meat on Christmas Eve. The dinner starts when the first star appears on the sky 🙂

Extra plate for an unexpected guest

From my point of view, this is one of the sweetest Polish Christmas traditions. When you compare the number of family members and the number of plates on the table, you would realize that there is one plate too much.

We believe that no one should be alone or hungry on Christmas. So, if someone appears at your doorstep, we shall let this person in so that they can eat and celebrate Christmas as well. It rarely happens nowadays; however, the tradition still exists.

Putting hay beneath the tablecloth

Do not be surprised if you find the hay underneath the tablecloth in the Polish house. It is supposed to serve as a way to remember about the newborn Jesus who according to the Bible was put in a manger to rest.

Sharing an Oplatek – one of the main Polish Christmas traditions

An essential part of the Christmas dinner is to share an Oplatek. Some of you might be wondering what exactly is Oplatek. It is a wafer made of flour and water.

Just before we start Christmas dinner, each person picks up one Oplatek and shares it with the rest of the family members together with the best wishes.

Christmas Gifts

Christmas traditions in Poland would not go without sharing gifts! Usually, once you satisfy your first hunger, sharing of the gifts starts. The youngest family members are the ones who typically run first to distribute the presents and, of course, pick up theirs 😉

I thought that with age, this feeling of excitement of opening the present would pass, but it feels still the same for me as it used to in the past. The presents are always packed in colorful paper or gift bags.

Three days of celebrations

So, you already know that we celebrate Christmas on 24th. It is the most important day for us. At midnight on 24th, we also go to the church for the mass. But, we also celebrate on 25th and 26th 😉

25th is usually spent still with family and 26th is a bit more chilled out, and we go out to meet with some friends. Because of that, both days are public holidays in Poland. In general, Christmas in Poland is all about family, food, and drinks 🙂

Animals can TALK

In Poland, it is believed that during Christmas Eve dinner, animals can talk. It is because animals helped the baby Jesus to be born.

Have you ever wanted to hear your favorite pet talk? Well, that is your chance! Bring your pet to Poland and let the magic happen 😉

Kissing under Mistletoe

It is a very romantic Polish Christmas tradition 😉 If you want to give a kiss to someone, this is your perfect chance! If there is a mistletoe hanging and a girl is standing underneath it, theoretically, she cannot get angry if you kiss her.

So, have you tried it? Has it worked? 😉 Maybe there are some romantic stories you want to share with us?

Singing Christmas Carols

Again, another one of my favorites. I love this Polish Christmas tradition even though my singing voice is probably not the best 😉 Some of the most popular Christmas carols include:

  • Wśród nocnej ciszy (Midst Quiet Night)
  • Bóg się rodzi (God is Born)
  • Lulajże Jezuniu (Lullaby Jesus Child)
  • W żłobie leży (Lying in the Manger)
  • Przybieżeli do Betlejem (Hurrying to Bethlehem)
  • Dzisiaj w Betlejem (Today in Bethlehem)

Many of the famous Polish carols date back in the 17th and 18th centuries. One of the most popular ones is Wśród nocnej Ciszy, the carol that was also beloved by our Pope John Paul II. In his book, the Life of Jesus, he wrote the following about this carol:

(…) A carol I used to sing in Poland as a young man and which I still sing as the Pope, a carol about the birth of the Saviour. On Christmas night, in every church and chapel, this song could be heard (…)

Final Conclusions

As you can see, the list of Polish Christmas traditions is quite extensive 🙂 Whatever happens, I am sure that it is going to be an excellent time for you and your beloved ones.

Merry Christmas! And, if you want to combine your Christmas break with some trip to the Polish mountains, do not forget to check our Zakopane guide!

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