Being a largely catholic country, Poland has Christmas as a very busy and occupied day. It is a major annual celebration in the country, much like in the rest of the western world. While Christmas parties are not very widely held in Poland, the festival is eagerly awaited for and celebrated with a great deal of fun and enthusiasm. Special masses and church services are held on this day and Polish people celebrate Christmas in a religious way. Decorations and various culinary delights are most identified with Christmas celebrations in the country. Read on to know more about Polish Christmas traditions.
Christmas Celebrations In Poland
Advent (a season of the Christian church) is the beginning of Christian time in Poland. During the time of Advent, special tasks are carried out by Polish people, including preparing the Christmas piernik (gingerbread) and decorating their home. Piernik is baked in fancy shapes like hearts, animals and St. Nicholas figures. Homemade stars and decorated eggshells are the traditional form of decorations in Polish households. Lit Christmas trees adorn most of the public areas, churches and homes. Shiny apples, walnuts, wrapped chocolate shapes, hand-blown glass baubles, and many homemade ornaments and candles are used to decorate the trees. Sometimes, the trees are left standing till February 2, which is the feast day of St. Mary of the Candle of Lightning.
Christmas Eve is a day of both fasting and feasting in Poland. The Polish people observe a fast until the appearance of the first star, which is when the feast begins. The first star has been affectionately given the name of 'little star' (Gwiazdka), in remembrance of the star of Bethlehem. People start gorging on food the moment the first star appears in the sky. The Christmas feast is meatless and is followed by an exchange of gifts between family members. Mostly, families in the neighborhood unite for the much-awaited Christmas supper. Though gift giving is an important Christmas ritual, more emphasis is placed on making special delicacies and decorations.
Twelve dishes are prepared on Christmas, to symbolize the 12 Apostles. An odd number of dishes (generally five, seven, or nine) can also be prepared for good luck. Poppy seed cake, beet soup, prune dumplings, carp, pierogi stuffed with sauerkraut and mushrooms, various fish and salad dishes, herring and noodles with poppy seed are the popular Polish Christmas dishes. Those who celebrate Christmas in a more traditional way steer clear of non-vegetarian cuisines. Compote of dry fruits is also arranged for. The meal begins with the traditional oplatek, a piece of bread with a holy picture grained on the surface. Oplatek is believed to be more symbolic for polish people than the real food, on Christmas.