Christmas in Poland
In Poland, Advent is the beginning of Christmas Time. It's a time when people try to be peaceful and remember the real reason for Christmas. People try not to have excess of anything. Some people give up their favourite foods or drinks and parties and discos are not widely held. Some people also go to Church quite frequently. There is the tradition of the 'roraty', special masses (or communion services) held at dawn and dedicated to Mary for receiving the good news from the angel Gabriel.
During Advent, people also prepare their houses for Christmas. There's lots of cleaning and people wash their windows and clean their carpets very thoroughly. Everything must be clean for Christmas day!
Poland is a largely catholic country and Christmas Eve is a very important and busy day. Traditionally it's a day of fasting and abstinence (not eating anything) and meat is not normally allowed to be eaten in any form. A special Christmas Eve meal called Wigilia (pronounced vee-GHEE-lee-uh) is eaten after the first star has been seen in the sky. It's also all meat free and might consist of Barszcz (beetroot soup), Uszka (mushroom ravioli), Pierogi (Pasta dumplings filled with either cheese and potato or cabbage and mushroom) and fish dishes (normally carp and herrings).
If the Christmas Tree hasn't been put up before hand, it's also brought in and decorated with tinsel, lights and glass decorations. Gold, silver and white chains resembling long, silver glittering hair is also hung on the tree and a star is placed on the top.
Nativity Cribs are also common decorations and Children take part in Nativity plays at schools and in Churches.
People in Poland also like kissing under the mistletoe!
After that the house is cleaned again and everyone also gets washed and puts on their festive clothes. People are normally very hungry on Christmas Eve, as it is traditional that no food is eaten until the first star is seen in the sky! So children look at the night sky to spot the first star!
At the beginning of the meal, a large wafer biscuit called an 'Oplatek', which has a picture of Mary, Joseph and Jesus on it, is passed around the table and everyone breaks a piece off and eats it. Sometimes a small piece may be given to any farm animals or pets that the family may have. A place is often left empty at the meal table, for the Christ Child, as in the Czech Republic.
Sometimes straw is put on the floor of the room, or under the table cloth, to remind people that Jesus was born in a stable or cow shed.
The meal consists 12 dishes of mostly fish (as meat used to be forbidden), mushrooms, puddings and cake. Common dished include pierogi, bigos and karp (carp). Like in many Catholic countries, Christmas Eve is often a 'fasting day' meaning that some people don't eat anything until after sunset (when the Church day officially ends). So that's where the custom of the first star come from.
Later children check the presents under the tree and and give them out. Presents might also be brought by 'Swiety Mikolaj' (St. Nicholas).
After the meal, the candles on the Christmas Tree are lit and people eat, talk and sing carols. Children sometimes dress up as characters from the Christmas story and go carol singing.
Christmas Eve is finished by going to Church for a Midnight Mass service.
The days after Christmas are often spent with family and friends.
In Polish Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Wesołych Świąt'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
Polish Children also often get dressed up and go carol singing on Epiphany, January 6th (see Spain for more information).
Thank you to Jolanta Fallach for her help in giving me information on Christmas in Poland!