Have you ever wondered what traditions Polish people have when celebrating Christmas? A look into the customs and traditions of how people of Poland celebrate Christmas from a Scottish perspective.
‘Tis the season to be jolly. That’s right, Christmas is literally around the corner, a holiday that brings joy and happiness to many people from around the world. It’s a time for the family to get together to enjoy each other’s company. Whether it be sitting down around the table and tucking into the delicious Christmas dinner that mum has spent all day preparing, or having a drink or two, or maybe more. The most important part about Christmas for many is spending it with family.
Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year and what has made it all the better is sharing it with my fiancé. The past two years I have learned to enjoy it more by embracing my other half’s Polish traditions and getting stuck into preparing mouth-watering traditional Polish dishes. I must say, it’s a lot of fun and a great way to bond with the in-laws.
The majority of Poland is Catholic and Christmas Eve or ‘Wigilia’ is very busy and the most important day throughout the festive period. While most of us tuck into the traditional turkey with the trimmings and a side of roast potatoes, a typical Polish meal consists of twelve dishes – one dish for each of the 12 months of the year. The tradition behind it is you must try a bit of everything to ensure prosperity for each month of the year ahead.
Before the meal, a wafer biscuit called ‘Oplatek’ which has a picture of Mary, Joseph and Jesus on it is passed around the table where everyone breaks off a small piece and the whole family exchange good wishes for the upcoming New Year.
The Christmas Eve supper, or as it’s known in Poland as ‘Kolacja Wigilijna’, is a tradition that no food is to be eaten until the first star is seen in the sky.
A popular starter for the evening meal, or ‘Kolacja wigilijna’ is red borscht with ravioli which is similar to Beetroot soup. It may not look particularly appetising for some people, but it tastes amazing. It may not be one of the dishes that suits everyone’s taste buds, but the mushroom soup is second in running to have as a starter meal where it can be eaten with ‘Uszka’ dumplings and mushrooms, or ‘Krokiety’ pancakes and mushrooms. You can also have it with cabbage, breadcrumbs that are fried with oil or butter.
Pierogi is another custom dish to have for Christmas Eve and is considered Poland’s famous dumplings, which is filled with sour cabbage and mushrooms. It is similar to ravioli and is a dish that takes time and patience to prepare, especially when you are preparing them by hand. Pierogi is great filled with potatoes and cheese and some people top it off with sour cream or onions, a dish that can be made to suit everyone’s taste. I really enjoyed preparing this with my mother-in-law last Christmas as it was the first time I could really get stuck into making something that was traditionally Polish.
A nice gesture that is done in most Polish households at Christmas time is leaving an empty place at the dining table for an unexpected guest, or’ Niespodziewany Gosc’ who may join the evening meal. The saying is that no one should be alone or go hungry, and therefore if someone who was to knock on the door they are welcomed with open arms. Some families may leave an empty place for a relative that is no longer alive, or for a family member who could not make it to the meal.
A tradition that is basically set in stone in many cultures, is that presents are opened on Christmas day, but in Poland gifts are opened after the Christmas Eve supper is finished. In some households, families take part in singing Christmas carols such as ‘God is Born’, (Bog Sie Rodzi) and ‘They came to Bethlehem’ (Przybiezeli do Betlejem).
Throughout the last couple of years, I have experienced Christmas in a different culture. I can say it’s absolutely amazing to join in different traditions that are not ones I have grown up with. It’s great that I not only get to share the fun and laughter with my fiancé’s family, but I have also been able to carry on Polish traditions with my family when we celebrate, which they love.