In Poland, Christmas is celebrated in virtually every household. With the majority of the population belonging to the Christian Church, many choose to celebrate religiously. However, there are a number of families who, even though they are not a part of the Church, still celebrate Christmas culturally.
The most important day of the holidays is Christmas Eve, as opposed to most countries, where the attention is focused on Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, families in Poland gather for dinner, gift-giving, and carol-singing. An old tradition that is still present today is setting the table with an empty spot left symbolically for a lonely person who may not have anywhere to go on Christmas Eve. The dinner itself cannot be started before the appearance of the first star. Children impatiently stare at the sky, competing against each other to be the first one to announce that the star has come into sight. Only then does the supper begin. This tradition is connected to the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Biblical Magi to the new-born Jesus.
The dinner begins with the sharing of opłatek – a thin wafer with a holy picture pressed into it. Each person receives one and shares it with other members of the family. While doing that, they wish each other Merry Christmas and happiness in the coming year, as well as forgive each other for any past hurt. The sharing of opłatek is a tradition only present in Poland. It used to be done by visiting neighboring houses in addition to sharing with the people gathered around the table.
However, Christmas in Poland is more than just a religious celebration. It brings families and neighbours together in the holiday spirit, inspiring reflection and helping others.
by Maria S.
Picture of the Christmas tree in the centre of Warsaw’s Old Town