Kolendy - Polish Carols

In America, Christmas music is often played in stores right after Halloween or the week before Thanksgiving. It is not heard in Poland until after the Christmas Vigil Mass. Bells are rung, shots are fired, and carols are sung after midnight.

Kolenda, or koledy as it is in Polish, is the word used for Polish Christmas songs. Until the 17th century, most of the religious music, including Christmas music, was Latin in origin. When Polish words and melodies began to become popular in the church, they were not written down, but just taught to the people by rote. In 1838, a Rev. Hioduszewki collected and preserved these tunes. He put together the collection called Pastoralki i Koledy z Melodiami (Pastorals and Carols with Melodies).

There were the religious hymns sung in church, there were the secular ones that told fairy-tale type stories, and then there were the very beautiful pastoralka or shepherd's songs. These are essentially Polish in melody, rhythm, and theme. The kolenda therefore has the real Polish spirit, reflecting the land, the people, the history, and the faith. Anyone who has come to love the haunting, beautiful melodies of these songs knows why Chopin and other famous Poles held dear the memory of the koledy when they were far from their native land.

When our daughter-in-law Sharon first attended Ted's annual Christmas recitals, she was surprised and touched, almost to tears, when he played Dzisiaj w Betlejem (Today in Bethlehem). She told us that her great-grandmother had sung this to her all her life and she hadn't heard it since her grandmother passed away. Ever since, we've called this "Sharon's song" and Ted plays it for her. (My song is the trumpeter's tune from Maryacki, the church in Krakow.)

When Ted made his koledy tape, we found that so many people love this or some other song that has a special meaning or memory from their childhood. Ted says he loves these beautiful songs because they seem to be the heart of the Polish people. The koledy, like so many of the old customs, are enjoying a rebirth, especially with Polish Americans who want to retain their heritage.

We wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year!

written by Lorraine Grochowsa Kiefer

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Lorraine is the host of Triple Oaks Nursery & Herb Garden. Visit her website and shop


Check all the articles about Polish Christmas traditions in the Polish Culture website.
Check our Christmas Music Store for a wide selection of Polish and Polish-American carols and also some Christmas books

The book with Polish Paper Cut Designs can be useful for you. Check
Polish Wycinanki Designs by by Frances Drwal.

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