The Polish people have a lot of unique customs around the festive season. From 12 dishes on Christmas Eve to waiting till the star appears, many traditions have been practised for generations. Though traditions from other cultures and countries have spread to Poland, there are lots that are delightfully distinctive of the country. Here are some of the wonderful Christmas Traditions in Poland you might not know about.
7 Polish Christmas Traditions
1. Christmas greetings
The Christmas season in Poland starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The four weeks leading up to Christmas are called Advent. It is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. In Poland, people wish each other Wesołych Świąt, which means Merry Christmas.
2. Talking to the animals
According to an old Polish legend, on Christmas Eve animals are granted the gift of speech. This is their reward for their role in welcoming Jesus into the world. So, on Christmas Eve, many children, and adults too, try to elicit speech from their pets.
3. Waiting for the star
Before sitting down to eat dinner on 24th December, many Poles wait until the first star appears in the sky. This Polish Christmas tradition is in remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Wise Men to the manger in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
4. Wigilia Christmas Eve meal
On Christmas Eve, the Poles enjoy Wigilia, the most important meal of the season. This meat-less dinner consists of 12 courses, one for each of the Apostles or one for each month of the year, depending on beliefs. It is good luck for the year ahead to eat each dish. The main dish is fried carp but other dishes include borsch (beetroot soup) eaten with uszka (little dumplings with mushrooms). You’ll also find a poppy seed cake known as makowiec on the menu.
5. Putting hay on the table
Another Christmas tradition in Poland is putting hay on the table and covering it with a table cloth. This centuries-old practice is in memory of the birth of Jesus in a manger filled with hay.
6. Leaving an empty place
Most Polish people set an extra place at Wigilia for unexpected guests. The place setting, with dishes and cutlery, remains empty for a traveller or homeless person. Should one knock on the door, they can come in and enjoy dinner and celebrate. This extra place setting symbolises Mary and Joseph getting turned away from the inns of Bethlehem because there was no room.
7. Sharing the wafer
The Christmas Eve meal begins with the breaking of oplatek. This is an unleavened wafer made from flour and water. The oplatek has a religious image or scene on it. Each person has a wafer that they break and share a piece with the others at the table whilst exchanging well wishes. Families sometimes give the wafers to pets and farm animals and mail them to family abroad. Polish people link the tradition of oplatek to Jesus breaking the bread at the Last Supper. It symbolises the family’s unity with Jesus.