December in Poland. First snow or second. Early dark or earlier. Lights and warmer atmosphere at homes. Children are happy because they receive gifts twice! First, on the 6th of December is Saint Nicholas Day – yes, the saint from the area of today’s Turkey to the world. Second, on the 24th of December, we have a very special, intimate afternoon and evening – Christmas Eve.
December 6th, St Nicholas day
Saint Nicholas goes to every Polish kindergarten, school, shop and shopping mall. You can meet him on the streets, in churches, in parks. He always brings a big bag with something for the children. Of course at homes as well. Early morning or afternoon on December 6th children see the gifts finally. Before, usually in November, they write letters to Saint Nicholas – what do I want? And it comes. Not always everything, not always exactly as it was written, but it comes. And the children are happy.
24th of December, Christmas Eve
Then, on the 24th a much bigger celebration happens. But not only on that day. It starts then but we do not have to work until 27th! Let’s say 2,5 days of celebration in families and not only, with a lot of fantastic and varied food, with an uncountable number of traditions and customs depending on particular regions, families, styles, but always many: songs, meetings, eating, gifts, full churches, Christmas trees everywhere and lights on the streets, happy children again, and contests of Christmas Cribs (Nativity Scenes) in so many places. For example, in Katowice, there is one of the biggest Christmas Cribs in Europe installed each and every year.
But the 24th of December is really special. It may even be very intimate or mystical experience for some. When the first star appears in the sky, families in silence (except children of course 🙂 sit by the table. One chair is always left vacant – for the unexpected guest… It is an old folk tradition to commemorate the ones who already passed away. It started to be associated later with Polish hospitality as well – to be always ready to welcome the other, the wanderer, the hungry.
After the prayer Polish share wafers wishing each other the best and sometimes expressing apologies – forgiving what happened. This is an early Christian tradition – one of the versions of custom to break the bread in community. And then the main meals are served. Traditionally 12 meals or dishes should appear on the decorated table. In history, the number was growing: from 7 to 9, from 9 to 12, in some houses even more 🙂 You can taste the mushroom soup or creme, fish of different kind – very often royal carp, dry fruits compote, poppy-seeds cake or famous Polish gingerbread (from Toruń, like Nicholas Copenicus:). Of course regions differ in menu a bit – Poland is quite big and old.
After the dinner Christmas songs are being sung and children become impatient – the gifts are there under the tree! OK, let’s go. And for the rest of the evening the room is filled up with boxes, toys, gifts for parents and elders as well :), with food again and good drinks, with music, with all and all, and then the time for Midnight Mass comes 🙂 Oh my darling! Of course not all Polish go, but still quite many of us do. Even if we fall asleep in the bench of church 😉 And very often come back home is around 1.30 or 2.00 am with the fire of Bethlehem in hands. Some streets shine like rivers of light for this one special moment. In the middle of the night.
So many traditions and customs, and first of all unforgettable moments of being together in this. It continues throughout all Christmas days and longer, even in January to some degree when by the Christmas Markets of course illuminations and famous Polish Christmas decorations hang all around. Sometimes even until the beginning of February! Christmas time may be really heart-touching and joyful. In different ways. Finally, it depends of course on us… You are most welcomed to experience it! The star is shining *