Polish Christmas Traditions
Are you going to spend Christmas this year in Poland but you are not familiar with polish traditions during this time? Don’t be surprised and get familiar with them today with some of the most common Polish Christmas Traditions
EMPTY PLATE FOR UNEXPECTED GUEST
Poles always prepare one more plate on Christmas dinner than they should. Why do they arrange an extra seat at their table? In case a person in need would show up and ask for shelter on this special day. Nowadays it almost never happens but the tradition requires that any stranger need to be taken in the house for the dinner and treated as own family. One of the strongest traditions in Poland cultivated in every single home in the country. Poles strongly believe someone could show up and for this case everything needs to look like the family was waiting for them and even the plates were ready.
The first star according to the Holy Bible is the Star of Bethlehem that led three kings (Kacper, Melchior and Balthazar) to Bethlehem to the stable where the Christ was born. To commemorate this event, children await the first star in the sky – it symbolizes the beginning of Christmas celebration. Some families don’t keep this tradition anymore but in some homes you cannot start eating Christmas dinner until the first star will appear on the night sky. It is forbidden due to this tradition to open the presents before the first star that’s why its mostly children watching the sky impatiently.
HAY UNDER THE TABLECLOTH
Your plate is bumpy on the table and you find out a piece of “grass” under it? It is the special hay placed there for a reason and is a one of the very hearty Polish Christmas Traditions. The hay is placed under the tablecloth on purpose to remember that according to the Bible newborn Jesus was put on a hay in the stable in Bethlehem to sleep.
The tradition says there must be 12 dishes served on the Christmas table and every guest should try every dish at least a little so that the next year nothing will be missing. Number 12 refers to number of the apostles and number of months in a year. This is one of the favorite Polish Christmas Traditions for the hungry/greedy.
Be prepared that Poles do not eat any meat on Christmas eve. According to the strict traditions of the Catholic church, Poles usually resign from meat on Christmas Eve. They mostly consume many kinds of fish, dumplings, soups and salad.
The most popular Christmas fish is carp which is eaten basically only during Christmas period. Some Poles keep live carps swimming in their bathtub for few days and kill them on the day of Christmas Eve. Carp can be served fried, cold in jelly and fried.
SHARING THE WAFER
This custom comes from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The wafer has been made eatable for animals so it is shared with them also. Poles used to believe it was to protect them from getting any diseases. Sharing the wafer is a symbol of gratitude and the sign of forgiveness of old issues. Sharing of wafer takes place before sitting down to eat dinner. Each person needs to share a piece of their wafer with every other person taking part in the dinner. The wafer is even given to the animals living in the house. This tradition is linked to the breaking of bread at the Last Supper.
XMAS TREE SYMBOLISM
One important part of Christmas is a Christmas tree. The tradition of decorating it came to Poland from Germany. Poles started decorating the tree only at the beginning of 19th century. The Christmas tree should be ready until Christmas eve so December 24th. Its each elements also have their symbolism: lights are a sign of Christ’s being born into the world, baubles are a symbol of God’s grace and a chain is a symbol of a snake tempting people. The tradition of decorating a tree wasn’t for a long time was approved by the Catholic Church. Today it is present in catholic churches and homes around whole country.
An old Polish legend says animals have the gift of speech on Christmas Eve as a prize for their important role in welcoming small baby Jesus on earth. Because of that children often try to get a word or two out of their family pets.
MIDNIGHT MASS – PASTERKA
Translation of the polish name – Pasterka – would be the “Shepherds’ Mass” referring to the Biblical shepherds who were visited by an angel who told them about the birth of small Jesus. They arrived in Bethlehem and were the first to greet new born baby. It is one of the most important Polish catholic traditions. The participation in the celebration of the birth of Christ is obligatory for all Catholics.
There are no masses happening in the afternoon on December 24th as it is the time for the Christmas dinner for Poles. Christmas dinner ends with a midnight mass celebrated exactly at midnight in churches around Poland. Music (mostly Christmas carols) for the Midnight Mass starts as soon as the doors open at 11PM. The Blessing of the Crib which is the main part of the mass takes place after the priest opens the Christmas shed model placed near the altar. The custom of celebrating the night mass started in the catholic Church in the 5th century and reached Poles with arrival of Christianity in the country.
We hope this article has helped you learn more about Polish Christmas Traditions. If we missed an important one off the list then make sure you leave it in the comment section to help those who might be experiencing their first Polish Christmas dinner.