Poland is a predominately Catholic nation, so Christmas is celebrated on December 25, just like in the West. Christmas traditions are celebrated in both the family setting and publicly. With regards to the latter, visitors to Poland can see Christmas trees set up in town squares, like the Christmas tree in Warsaw. Christmas markets, like the Krakow Christmas Market attract visitors during the month of December and sell traditional foods, gifts, and souvenirs.
Advent in Poland
Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and is a time of religious observances and prayer. Special church services mark this time.
Poland's Christmas Eve (Wigilia) and Christmas Day
In Poland, the traditional Christmas feast occurs on Christmas Eve, or Wigilia, a day that holds equal importance with Christmas Day. Before the table is set, straw or hay is placed under a white tablecloth. An extra place is set for any unexpected visitor, as a reminder that the Holy family was turned away from inns in Bethlehem and that those seeking shelter are welcome on this special night.
The traditional Polish Christmas meal consists of 12 dishes, one for each of the 12 apostles. These dishes are usually meatless, though this restriction does not exclude the preparation of fish. Typically, people watch for the first star to appear in the night sky before sitting down to eat. The breaking of symbolic wafers precedes the meal and everyone shares pieces of the broken wafers.
It is on this day that the Christmas tree is decorated. The Polish Christmas tree can be decorated with shapes cut from gingerbread, colored wafers, cookies, fruit, candy, straw ornaments, decorations made from eggshells, or commercially produced ornaments.
Midnight mass is a part of Poland's Christmas traditions. On Christmas Day, Poles will eat a large meal, sometimes with a goose as the centerpiece.
The 26th of December, Boxing Day, is known as Holy Szczepan, or St. Stephen's Day. It continues the Christmas celebrations.Traditionally a day for consecrating grain crops, Holy Szczepan is now a day for church services, visiting with family, and possibly caroling.
Traditional Polish Christmas Beliefs and Superstitions
Certain beliefs and superstitions surround Christmastime in Poland, though these beliefs are often only observed for fun today. Animals are said to be able to speak on Christmas Eve. The straw placed under the tablecloth can be used for fortune telling. Old grudges are supposed to be forgiven during Christmas time in Poland. The first person to visit the house will predict future events – a man brings fortune, a woman, misfortune.
Santa Claus in Poland
Santa Claus does not appear on Christmas Eve. The appearance of Santa Claus (Mikolaj) happens instead on December 6. The feast of St. Nicholas is a part of the Advent celebrations, which are an integral part of Polish Christmas traditions.
Christmas Markets in Poland
Poland's Christmas markets rival those of Western Europe, particularly the one in Krakow. However, markets in other cities and towns throughout the country use their central squares and historic venues well to showcase holiday ornaments, gifts, and souvenirs. Some of the best Christmas gifts from Poland can be found during this time of year when seasonal products and handicrafts fill vendors' stalls. Poland's diversity in folk art means that finding something special for a loved one, such a ceramics, amber jewelry, or wooden figurines, will be a matter of choosing from a wide selection.