Christmas in Poland - Christmas Eve (Wigilia) (III)

Continuation of the Christmas subject. The previous article was devoted to Religious Aspects of Christmas in Poland (II)

Read about Flowers and other Decorations for Christmas ( stroik ).

Everybody, especially kids love White Christmas. Usually their dream comes true. According to the folk tradition - if the Christmas is "black" (without snow) - the Easter will be white. Who wants white Easter instead of White Christmas? Nobody...

Before Christmas Eve farmers bless the fields with a holy water and place crosses made of straw in four corners of their fields. I still remember my grandma doing that.
The celebrations of Christmas Eve cannot start before the first evening star (Polish: "gwiazda") appears in the sky. Therefore Christmas is also called "Gwiazdka" (the little star).

Poles are famous for their hospitality, this is also reflected during Christmas. The additional seat is kept to welcome a stranger to the supper during Christmas Eve. Nobody should be left alone during Christmas, even strangers should be welcomed for Christmas supper. This is to remind that Mary and Joseph were also looking for shelter before Mary gave birth to baby Jesus. This old tradition seems to work nowadays in Poland quite well. Couple of years ago homeless people were interviewed after Christmas - it was revealed that many of them were invited to strangers' houses for Christmas or at least Christmas food was shared with them.

The Polish name for Christmas Eve supper is "Wigilia" from Latin "Vigilare" - to await. .

When I was a child I did not understand why time before the supper was so hectic, with all adults running like crazy around the house. Now I know that it was a time of placing gifts under the Christmas tree. In Poland we do not keep gifts around the Christmas tree (Polish: choinka) for weeks before Christmas like in some other countries. I guess, Polish kids would not be that patiently waiting to open their gifts for weeks. Besides, there is a strong belief (at least I believed so) that it is Baby Jesus brings gifts and place them under "choinka" during Christmas supper.

Finally when all are at the table the candles are lit and the lights turned off. After the prayer the family members share holy wafer (called in Polish "oplatek" and blessed by a priest) with each other. It starts with the oldest person, she/he share the "oplatek" with the rest. Everybody shares good wishes with everybody. This is a right time for reconciliation, forgiveness and love. The misunderstandings (which accumulated during the year), injustice, harms and old grudges should be forgotten. After sharing the wafer the Christmas Supper finally begins. The amount of dishes is strictly established - but is different in different regions of Poland. For instance in Krakow's region Christmas supper should have 12 dishes representing 12 months in a year. In Silesia's area the amount of dishes should be an odd number.

During the Christmas Eve supper children are reminded to be quiet so that baby Jesus will be comfortable to leave gifts under the Christmas three. The tradition of Baby Jesus as a gift messenger (in Polish "Dzieciatko Jesus") was especially strong in Silesia (Southwestern part of Poland) where my mother' family come from. In other regions of Poland another "messengers" were bringing gifts. Read more about it in the article about How to decorate a Polish Christmas Tree (II). It seems that many Christmas traditions are very regional until now.

After the Christmas supper kids and everybody else are allowed to open the gifts. Later, the family gather around Christmas tree and sing the carols. This is a very nice aspect of Christmas, no TV, no radio, just all family members together singing the carols. Poles love singing carols! This is one of the reasons why Christmas season is longer in Poland than in the other countries. Just visit Polish church between December 25th and February 2nd (read about Polish Christmas timeframe) and you would be impressed hearing like almost everybody in the church sing Polish carols!

The last accent of Christmas Eve is a participation at Christmas mass at midnight in the church.

This mass is called "pasterka" which can be translated into English as a "Shepherd's Mass". Churches are full of people during this service!

Please, read more Christmas articles.

written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, December 2000 (article #19), Revised in 2003

Christmas Music Store for a wide selection of Polish and Polish-American carols and also some Christmas books

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