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12 Things you should know about Christmas traditions in Poland

Christmas Eve Supper, known as wigilia, is one of the most longstanding and widely cherished of Polish rituals. In the vast majority of homes, both among believers or non-believers, a formal meal is celebrated and served on the table which is covered with a white tablecloth. Hay is traditionally placed under the cloth covering the ta-ble and an extra empty place is set for an unexpected visitor. Custom dictates that there should be twelve dishes, just like the Twelve Apostles, and that the celebration should start when the first star appears. The most eagerly anticipated part of Christ-mas Eve, both for children and adults, is quite naturally the exchange of presents. There are many customs and institutions related to the entire Christmas period. They include caroling or carol singing, as well as the singing of melodious seasonal songs called pastorałki. Traditional Nativity plays are held and the art of building Christmas cribs continues to this day, especially in the  South of  Poland –  the  Krakow cribs are particularly famous. Maybe only the custom of Christmas fortune-telling, which in the past was considered as determining the course of events for the entire coming year, has not survived.

  1. Advent - Christmas time is preceded by the 4-week religious season of Advent, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus.

  2. Decorating Christmas tree - Christmas trees are decorated shortly before Christmas. The decorations include glass balls, garlands, home-made ornaments and candles, with a star or a tree topper at the top.

  3. Fasting - Christmas Eve is a day of fasting, followed by a sumptuous dinner, consisting of 12 traditional dishes, which in most homes starts with the appearance of the first star.

  4. Culinary traditions - Polish culinary traditions vary depending on the region, but traditionally 12 dishes are served to reflect the number of Apostles. The dishes may include fish or red beetroot soup, carp, pasta with poppy mass, jellied fish, herring in cream or oil, or Kutia – a wheat pudding with poppy seed, honey, and nuts.

  5. An extra seat for the unexpected guest - In most Polish homes, an empty seat with a set of dishes and cutlery is left for a traveler or a homeless person so that they can join the hosts and celebrate the holiday on Christmas Eve.

  6. Sharing wafer - Just before the dinner, family members share the wafer and wish all the best to each other.

  7. Hay on the table - This tradition is on the decline, but there still are families who put hay on the table covering it with the table cloth.

  8. Gift giving following Christmas dinner - One of the best loved Polish traditions. Traditionally, it Santa Claus who brings gift or, optionally, they are placed under the Christmas tree.

  9. Singing carols - Christmas carols are serious and religious in character, yet it is customary to sing them after dinner.

  10. Caroling on Christmas Eve - In some parts of Poland, especially in the countryside, there are groups of carolers going house to house, caroling or performing a short nativity play.

  11. Midnight Mass - At midnight following Christmas Eve many Poles attend the Midnight Mass to commemorate the prayers of shepherds on their way to Bethlehem.

  12. Christmas Days - Christmas Day and Boxing Day, known here as the First and the Second Day of Christmas, are traditionally spent with relatives, even if it means traveling long distances to visit them.
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