Polish Christmas Traditions: Christmas Eve and Christmas are a special time of year in Poland, full of family traditions that have been passed down through generations. Families gather to sing carols throughout their homes as part of this much-anticipated holiday celebration, from the mouth-watering carp to the fragrant evergreen tree adorned with apples!
Starting at the end of November, you can get into the festive spirit in Poland. Christmas markets typically open during this time and offer a variety of warm foods, drinks, trees, and handmade trinkets to purchase as souvenirs. Experiencing all that these markets have to offer is an essential part of truly celebrating the holiday season!
On Christmas Eve in Poland, families gather to observe Wigilia (Polish pronunciation: [viˈɡilʲa]), a time-honored tradition that is said to set the tone for the entire year. It’s an evening of merriment and joy as people come together around sumptuous meals and convivial conversations to celebrate Polish Christmas. This one they are sure will impact their lives long after this special night has passed.
Here, we will tell you all about the festive merriment and polish tradition that takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas in traditional Polish families.
Planning and Preparation for the entire Christmas period
On the 24th of December, Poland comes alive with activity as they prepare for that evening’s celebration. Decorating the Christmas tree, whipping up traditional meals, tidying the house, and donning their best attire—all should be done before one star appears in the sky! The hustle and bustle to ensure everything is ready to culminate into a magical moment.
In Poland, it is widely believed that three days of celebration should be devoted to rest. On the eve of Wigilia, children often search for the first star in the night sky—symbolically representing the Star of Bethlehem. Once this celestial beacon appears on Christmas Eve, festivities can commence!
Christmas in Poland is not complete without a stunningly decorated Christmas tree. Since the 19th century, Christmas trees have been a staple of Polish city homes and began to appear in villages at the turn of the 20th Century. Unlike many other countries, Poles adorn their trees with much more than just ornaments—apples, sweets, nuts wrapped up in wrappers, cookies, and straw stars bring life and fertility to these holiday symbols.
The preparation of the Christmas Eve table
Breaking a Wafer
Before enjoying the Wigilia meal, the guests are served with a wafer called an “opsatek.” OPATEK is an elongated rectangle of paper whose surface is normally topped with images of Mary, and Joseph. All the members take the piece and go to the guests offering Christmas wishes. Upon receiving a wish, each person removes a piece from their wafer and eats it. Some people believe that the break in bread is symbolic of the last meal.
Poles will frequently strive to have twelve dishes on the table during Christmas, in honor of the number of apostles or months in a year. All of these meals are specifically cooked for this special holiday and can take quite some time. Although plenty of restaurants and stores offer Christmas dinners, Poles tend to still opt for homemade family recipes as they always taste better!
Various meals and dishes may vary depending on the specific region, yet many remain universal. Additionally, Poles often leave an empty seat at the dinner table for visiting relatives, travelers, or neighbors, as they believe no one should have to be alone during holidays. This is why friends and neighbors who don’t have anywhere else to go are frequently invited to enjoy a meal with them!
For a festive Christmas dinner, typical dishes include carp (Jewish style or traditional), herring, pierogi, and poppy seed cake. After satisfying their appetites with delicious food, people begin exchanging gifts and singing carols to truly get into the holiday spirit!
What are Christmas carols?
From the classic “Jingle Bells” to modern-day holiday hits, Christmas songs are sure to bring joy and cheer this festive season. Sing along with family and friends as you raise your voices in melodic harmony—nothing quite gets us into the spirit of festivities like a good old-fashioned sing-song!
The people of Poland have an enduring and passionate relationship with their Christmas carols. Of the thousands of songs available, one even came close to being named the country’s national anthem!
A recent survey conducted by Polish National Radio discovered that a whopping 80% of Poles sing carols during their holiday feasts, demonstrating just how beloved these musical pieces are. This appreciation for carols is not a modern phenomenon. Rather, it has been part of Poland’s culture for centuries.
On Christmas Eve, both adults and children often visit their friends and family to spread holiday cheer. In return, they are rewarded with money or treats—a perfect incentive for getting into the festive spirit!
Pasterka the blessed service
Every Christmas Eve, thousands of believers gather in Bethlehem to celebrate the traditional Pasterka service. As the sun sets, pilgrims walk along a three-mile path lit by candles and singing carols while they wait for midnight Mass — when Jesus is said to have been born — at St. Catherine’s Church near Manger Square.
This festive procession is one of Christianity’s most beautiful traditions that celebrates faith and hopes with song and candlelight even during difficult times.
In Poland however, this is how the Pasterka service is completed. Every Christmas Eve, many Poles travel to churches in Poland to witness the midnight mass known as Pasterka. Translated directly from Polish, this religious service is called “Shepherds’ Mass,” owing to its Biblical reference to shepherds who were informed about Jesus Christ’s birth by an angel. This solemn yet joyful ceremony has been celebrated for centuries and serves as a reminder of faith during the holiday season.
From the traditional carp on the Christmas eve supper to singing Christmas carols and attending Pasterka services, Poles have a unique way of celebrating the festive season. The dishes served during Christmas dinner are often made from family recipes that have been passed down for generations, with some meals varying depending on the region.
Singing carols is also an integral part of Polish culture, as it brings joy and cheers throughout this special time of year. Finally, Pasterka serves as a reminder of faith; thousands gather every Christmas Eve in Bethlehem or Poland to witness this solemn yet joyful ceremony. All these elements combined make for one truly remarkable holiday celebration!
An extra bit of info: Why is Christmas so important for Poles?
In Poland, Christmas literally means God’s birth. When we talk about this together, we simply say “wita” (holiday). Although Easter has traditionally held a very special place in Christians’ lives, Christmas has always been a very important holiday, and they’re all very thankful for it.
Its mysterious aura is so soothing. The Poles spend Christmas a lot with family and friends, and we often have food together and visit one another. Polish holiday traditions have a special quality because, during these times, no one feels lonely anymore!
The story of times – The Christmas Spider
The Christmas Spiders is a story about the old legends of family members who could not afford to decorate their Christmas trees. On Christmas Day they found an enormous tree with silver and gold as spiders swam through it. Because of this story, it is believed that spiders can be found under Christmas trees. Sometimes people put fake spiders on trees to decorate in hopes of good luck.