Although secular in practice, Poland is a quintessentially Catholic state. Christianity is revered particularly after Pope John Paul II was announced Pope. It should therefore come as no surprise that Christmas is a major festival in this country. It is a period of much fasting followed by feasting. The feast begins with the appearance of the first star and is then followed by exchange of gifts.
Christmas in Poland is more about the decorations and the special food. Gift giving is not such an important ritual as it is elsewhere.
Christmas Decorations In Poland
Poland is one of the world’s most beautifully decorated places in the world, during Christmas.
You will find beautifully lit Christmas trees displayed in all the public areas, and outside the churches.
Traditionally the trees are decorated with shiny apples, walnuts, beautifully wrapped chocolate shapes and many homemade decorations and candles, however these days people, particularly in the cities prefer to buy pre-decorated trees. Usually the star of Bethlehem or any other glittering topper takes the pride of the place on top of the Christmas tree. Many times, people hang sparklers on the branches of the tree so that it appears more glittery and magical. The trees are sometimes left standing outside till the feast of St Mary of the Candle of Lightning; February 2 nd .
Christmas Traditions in Poland
One Christmas tradition unique to Poland is the sharing the "oplatek," a thin wafer into which is pressed a holy picture. People once carried these oplateks from house to house to wish their neighbors.
These days, the members of a family and the immediate neighbors share the bread. When a person shares a piece of wafer with another person, it is symbolic of the fact that they are forgiving them any hurt caused in the past year and are wishing them all the luck in life for the next year.
It is much like shedding all your emotional and vengeful baggage before stepping into the New Year. It is a truly delightful custom.
The first star of the night on Christmas Eve is so important that it has been given the affectionate name of "little star" or Gwiazdka, in remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem. On that night, all watch the sky anxiously, hoping to be the first to cry out, "The star!" The moment the star appears, people start eating.
The Christmas supper is also known as the Wigilia and is the most important meal of the year. The entire family unites to have this meal together and promise to look out for each other.
There are some very meaningful traditions followed by the Polish people, like the tradition of placing a bit of hay under the tablecloth as a reminder of Jesus' birth in a manger. Custom also demands that at a Christmas table an even number of people should be seated or someone may die in the New Year. It is considered bad luck to have a guest at Wigilia because it is specifically a family meal. However they do leave aside a plate for Baby Jesus or any wanderer who may come in need.
Everyone at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol of their unity with Christ. There should be 12 meals- symbol of 12 apostles.
The Polish Christmas treat usually consists of the special fare of beet soup; prune dumplings, carp, herrings and noodles with poppy seed. Dry fruits too are very popular.