Polish Christmas traditions are unique traditions, which are maintained for hundreds of years in Polish families. All the most important holidays in Poland are associated with the Christian tradition. An interesting feature is that also ancient pagan ceremonials occur in the customs, which also adds charm and magic to that special night. Christmas is a period of rejoicing, reconciliation with the family, and also the period of reflection and remembrance of those who have gone.
Wigilia – Christmas Eve
The day of Christmas Eve in every Polish home is full of tension: mothers, grandmothers, and aunts prepare the Christmas meals. All family members are preoccupied with preparations for the evening celebration. Of course, home decorating and the Christmas tree are priority jobs.
Traditionally, Christmas Eve begins with the first star in the sky. It is a symbolic reference to the Star of Bethlehem, which means the birth of Jesus Christ. Dinner begins with a prayer and a lesson of the gospel passage according to St. Matthew and St. Luke, concerning the birth of Jesus. Then family members break the wafer of bread and share it while giving each other good wishes.
Christmas table should have one more place setting – this place is reserved for the unexpected guest, who cannot be refused hospitality. Under the white table cloth a bundle of hay is placed, which reminds us, that Jesus Christ was born in a manger on the hay. Depending on region and family traditions, the set of Christmas Eve dishes is different, but usually on the table, meals should include “the fruits of the earth”. Dishes are fasting, abundant in farinaceous dishes, vegetables, and fish, and there should be 12. Every dish, has to be tried to ensure happiness throughout the next year.
Christmas Eve is rich in customs and superstitions which have magical powers. Usually they find their origins from local, pre-Christian beliefs. To this day, it is respected that on Christmas Eve no one should argue but show each other kindness.
To a small extent the tradition of placing in one of the pierogies, one grosz (penny), also survived and for one who gets it will bring good luck in the next year. And some people keep the scales of a carp in their wallet to bring good luck.
After supper, while the kids are busy playing, in a mysterious way under the Christmas tree gifts appear, and Santa comes. This meeting for some children can be very stressful. This applies only to naughty children who are threatened to get birch instead of a gift. An evening full of joy continues with singing carols and awaiting midnight when the animals will speak with the human voice. Then families go to church for Midnight Mass to greet the Savior.