Polish Culture and Customs

Krakow, main square with St. Mary's basilica

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Polish culture has a historical context, but it continues to evolve, incorporating old traditions with modern life. The culture of Poland developed as a result of its geography and connections to other countries, and it's rich thousand-year history.

The Poland of today continues the traditions and customs of this history with origins in the ​Slavic culture. There were even Byzantine and Ottoman influences. Approximately 95 percent of Poland's inhabitants are Roman Catholics, with about 75 percent attending church services regularly. This church affiliation has influenced the holidays and traditions that are such an important part of Polish culture. 

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    Polish performers in traditional costume

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    Poland's folk costumes (stroje ludowe) are colorfully decorated and represent different regions of Poland. Men's and women's folk costumes are most often seen during holidays, weddings and festivals when dancers entertain audiences with traditional performances.

    Regional costumes, which differ from each other, come from the historic regions of the country: Greater Poland, Lesser Poland, Mazovia, Pomerania, Warmia, Masuria, Podlasie, Kujawy, and Silesia. 

    You will also see differences in the mode of dress related to marital status. In Krakow, for example, a careful observer may be able to ascertain from the style of head covering not only where in the country a woman is from, but her marital status. Traditionally, unmarried women wore flower wreaths and ribbons on their heads, while married women wore white kerchiefs.

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    Polish Easter Eggs with scratched design

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    Since Poland's population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, that means that many Polish holidays—from Easter to All Saints' Day and Christmas—follow Catholic traditions.

    If you visit Poland during holiday periods, you get the chance to see authentic Polish life and come home with a memorable cultural experience. 

    National and religious holidays celebrated in Poland are marked by traditions, public celebrations, or days of rest and relaxation. If you're planning to travel to Poland, it's a good idea to find out about traditional holidays. Some of them may be familiar like Easter and Christmas but there are many uniquely Polish holidays too like Constitution Day and their Independence Day.

    While some holidays in Poland offer special opportunities for visitors to learn about Polish culture, it is also important to note that traveling during these holidays may mean that shops and public offices are closed. Plan your trip accordingly to avoid unexpected delays and cancellations.

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    All Saints Day in Pinczow, Poland

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    On this day, Poles reunite with family members to honor the deceased and place candles and flowers at grave sites.

    All Saints' Day, observed on November 1st, is an important holiday celebrated in Poland and Lithuania, which were once one country. 

    All Saints' Day is followed by All Souls' Day (November 2nd), and it's the evening between these two days that past generations believed that the deceased would visit the living or return to their homes.

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    Christmas tree on Castle Square in Warsaw, Poland

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    Christmas celebrations in Poland occur on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but large cities in Poland take advantage of this special time of year to decorate historic centers in lights, decorations and Christmas trees. Christmas markets add to the festive atmosphere.

    In Poland, Advent is the beginning of Christmas Time and may be a time of fasting, at least giving up some favorite foods. There are many special masses held. This is the time when people clean their homes and decorate for Christmas.

    Christmas Eve, which is more important than Christmas Day, is known as Wigilia and is a time for a special feast enjoyed only after the first star is seen in the evening sky. Gifts are open after dinner and many people go to Midnight mass.

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    Palm Sunday Procession Through Lyse In Poland

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    Easter in Poland is a special time of year, with religious observances and the celebration of the return of spring. City centers come alive with festivals and markets, and families uphold old customs by coloring eggs and attending church services.

    Easter is one of the most important holidays in Poland. Holy Week is filled with traditions, special events, and special church services. Festivities start on Palm Sunday when palm branches get blessed

    On Easter Saturday, Polish families bring baskets with bread, sausages, eggs, salt, and horseradish to church to be blessed. Each of these items has its own symbolic meaning.

    On Easter Sunday after church, families enjoy a special Easter meal. Before the meal begins people take a small piece of blessed egg and exchange wishes. It is a season of renewal and hope.

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    Alter of the Black Madonna, Jasna Gora Monastery
    Kerry Kubilius

    The Black Madonna, housed in a special chapel in Jasna Gora monastery, is Poland's most important religious icon. The Black Madonna is famous for her darkened skin and the two scars that are on her cheek. Every year, thousands of pilgrims flock to Jasna Gora to pray in the presence of this icon.

    The Black Madonna icon is said to be painted on a panel that came from the table used by the Holy Family—or a copy of the original panel painted by Luke the Apostle. The dark tones of the Black Madonna's skin are attributed to a legend that involving a fire that damaged a monastery but left the icon unscathed except for the discoloration of the pigments of the painting.

    Many miracles have been attributed to the Black Madonna.