POLISH CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS Polish traditions, especially at Christmas time, are beautiful and meaningful.
Wesolych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia! That is the way to say "Merry Christmas" in Polish. Among Poles, wherever they are, the most beloved and beautiful of all traditional festivities is that of Christmas Eve. It is then that the Wigilia, or Christmas Eve Dinner is served. It is a solemnly celebrated occasion and arouses deep feelings of kinship among family members.
The preparations for Christmas begin many days before the actual celebration. Nearly everywhere women are cleaning windows in apartments and houses just before Christmas. The insides of the houses are also cleaned thoroughly. It is believed that if a house is dirty on Christmas Eve, it will remain dirty all next year.
Weather-forecasting is quite popular during Christmas. Everything that happens on Christmas, including the weather, has an impact on the following year. The weather on Easter and throughout the next year supposedly depends upon the weather on Christmas (snow, rain etc). Only a white Christmas is considered a real Christmas; therefore, everybody is happy when there is fresh snow outside.
A traditional Christmas meal in Poland includes fried carp and borscht (beetrot soup) with uszka (ravioli). Carp provides a main component of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland; carp fillet, carp in aspic etc. Universal Polish Christmas foods are pierogi as well as some herring dishes, and for desert, makowiec or noodles with poppy seed. Often, there is a compote of dry fruits for a drink.
The celebration of Christmas by American families is enriched spiritually when time honored "old country" traditional customs are adopted. These practices serve to downplay the secular emphasis that has made of this holy time more of a "sell-ebration". These customs reemphasize what this great celebration is all about - the proclamation of the "good news" for all humankind of our redemption.
An especially popular custom is the sharing of the "Oplatek" or Christmas wafer, also known as "Anielski Chleb" or Angel Bread.
For the people of Poland and other Western Slavonic nations the "Oplatek" has always had a mystical quality.
The "Oplatek" is much like the unleavened wheat hosts used at Mass. Different Christmas scenes are embossed in the baking process.
For Americans, the "Oplatek" represents a reverent tie to the customs of "the old country." The observance that takes place on Christmas Eve becomes a sign of unity and solidarity with all members of the family, neighbors, and friends. Even absent members of the family receive an "Oplatek" by mail as a sign of their communion with their loved ones at home.
Straw is put under white tablecloth Some maidens predict their future from the straw. After supper, they pull out blades of straw from beneath the tablecloth. A green one foretells marriage; a withered one signifies waiting; a yellow one predicts spinsterhood; and a very short one foreshadows an early grave.
The Polish carol has an essentially folk song quality which makes it specifically national. The melodies are characteristically Polish - cheerful, tender, and even humorous - typical of the Polish peasant or mountaineer. The Infant Jesus, poor, homeless, and born in a stable surrounded by the familiar domestic animals, appeals to the hearts and imaginations of all peoples. Koledy are very joyful songs announcing the coming of Christ on earth and through His grace, the rebirth of our souls. Some of the more popular Christmas carols are: "Jesus, Heaven's Infant" ( Jezus Malusienki ), "To the Town of Bethlehem" ( Przybiezeli do Betlejem ), "Let Us All Go " ( Pójdzmy Wszyscy ), "Rejoice Bethlehem" ( Dzisiaj w Betlejem ), "God is Born" ( Gdy sie Chrystus rodzi ), "Midst Quiet Night" ( Wsrod Nocnej Ciszy) , "Hush-A-Bye Little Jesus" ( Lulajze Jezuniu ).
A long-time tradition in Poland during the Christmas season is th building of "Szopki" (pronounced shop-key), which are elaborate form of the Nativity scene. This tradition started back in the 13th century in Krakow, Poland, and remains an annual tradition whereas major prizes are awarded for the most elaborately decorated and designed Szopki.This is a miniature version of a Christmas Szopka. The Krakowian creches sometimes reach six feet in height. Their construction is based on elements of Krakow's historic architecture including Gothic spires, Renaissance facades and Baroquian-topped domes.
The feast of St. Nicholas is December 6th. On this day, Sw. Mikolaj would visit the homes of people in the village, dressed in his bishop's robes. When Sw. Mikolaj visited the children, he gave them a gift for being good and to remind them of the gifts given to the Christ Child by the Three Kings. Celebrating the feast day of Sw. Mikolaj remains popular with Polish people living all over the world. Many of the Christmas customs celebrated today are a result of the early visits made by St. Nicholas. For example, the candy cane given during the Christmas holidays is a simple treat symbolizing the shepherd's staff, which is carried by a bishop.