12 Things You Might Not Know About Polish Christmas

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As a a self-confessed Anglophile, as well as a person who was lucky enough to call London home for some time, I mostly follow British bloggers and Instagrammers. In the lead-up to Christmas, I read a lot of their gift guides and posts about Christmas preparations and traditions. It made me realise many things are done differently in Blighty. I find Polish Christmas traditions really interesting and underrated, which is why I decided to put together a post listing 12 fun facts you might not know. Sit back, relax, and enjoy!

A girl in a white coat standing in front of Christmas trees and a decorative candy cane

1. Main celebrations take place on Christmas Eve

While many Western countries celebrate Christmas on 25th December, in Poland main celebrations take place on Christmas Eve when we have Christmas supper called ‘Wigilia’

2. People celebrate Christmas for 3 days straight

…but if you thought that’s our Christmas done and dusted, you were wrong! We take festive season very seriously and celebrate Christmas for 3 days straight. 25th and 26th December are commonly called the first and second day of Christmas. They are often the time for visiting family and friends. In my family, we go to church in the morning. Then, we follow it with Christmas breakfast that continues into late afternoon hours and ends with an inevitable food coma.

A girl hanging a heart-shaped ornament on a Christmas tree

3. Poles give Christmas presents in the evening, not in the morning

We can only start our gift exchange after we’ve had Christmas supper. It is also known as the only time I can’t wait to stop eating.

A couple of wrapped presents, a stack of books and a vase with holly on a window sill

4. Stockings are not very popular and some households use… shoes

What if I told you instead of stocking fillers, some households do… shoe fillers? Putting Christmas presents in stockings is not a Polish tradition, although they are slowly becoming popular here, especially among families with children.

Poles are firm believers that every opportunity is good when it comes to celebrations and gift-giving. This is why we also celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on 6 December. When I was a child, my parents told me if I cleaned my shoes the night before, I would wake up to small gifts from Santa stuffed inside them… and it always worked like a charm!

A decorated Christmas tree with presents underneath and a colourful snowman standing beside it

5. In different parts of Poland, there are different gift bringers

Of course Santa Claus is the most popular gift bringer, but in certain regions of Poland he gives way to others: Gwiazdor (Star Man), Dzieciątko (Little Baby Jesus), Gwiazdka (Little Star), Aniołek (Little Angel), and Dziadek Mróz (Grandfather Frost).

6. Christmas supper starts with the breaking of the Christmas wafer

Traditionally, in remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem, Christmas supper does not start until the first star appears in the sky. I remember sitting by the window as a child and anxiously waiting to spot the first star so we could all sit down at the dinner table and start our feast.

Polish Wigilia always begins with the breaking of the Christmas wafer with a picture of Mary, Joseph and Jesus embossed on it, called ‘opłatek’. We share a piece of opłatek with each family member as we give them our best wishes for the upcoming year. It is a symbol of love and forgiveness for any wrongdoings of the past.

A reindeer made of pine branches

7. People are not allowed to eat meat on Christmas Eve

Christmas supper in Poland is meat-free. Instead, the main dish of the meal is carp. It is traditionally bought alive a few days before Christmas and killed in the bathtub by the lady of the house, which is hands down the most gruesome Polish Christmas tradition. I personally disapprove of this practice (thankfully it is becoming less and less popular) and have never eaten carp in my entire life, although I am not a fish person in general.

A vase with holly and a mouse toy on a stack of books

8. It is customary to serve 12 dishes

A traditional Polish Christmas Eve supper consists of 12 dishes to symbolise the Twelve Apostles and everyone is supposed to try each dish. The most traditional Christmas dishes include carp, barszcz (beetroot soup) with uszka (tiny ravioli-like dumplings, their name literally translates to ‘little ears’), pierogi (dumplings) with cabbage and mushrooms, herring, makowiec (poppy seed cake) or łazanki (noodles with poppy seed). Some households serve dried fruit compote to drink. I personally hate anything with poppy seed and I only ever eat fish fillet, so the tradition I mentioned above is one I never manage to follow. I always have some breaded shrimp and eat my weight in pierogi, aka the best Polish food ever.

9. Poles often leave an empty place setting at the table

One thing Poles are known for is their hospitality. If you’ve ever celebrated Christmas in a Polish household, you may have noticed one empty place at the table. This is by no means a miscalculation. We often leave an empty place setting for a lone wanderer that might need shelter on Christmas Eve. It is often used to commemorate a dead relative who is no longer around to celebrate Christmas with us. Also, if you spot some hay beneath the tablecloth, don’t take your hosts for messy people. People leave it there purposely to remember the fact that Jesus was born in a manger.

White and red pillows and Christmas decorations on a window sill

10. After Christmas supper, people attend the Midnight Mass

Christmas Eve ends with ‘Pasterka’ – the Midnight Mass. As the name suggests, it is traditionally held at midnight. However, many churches these days hold an additional mass at 10 PM to accommodate a large number of people. Despite that, my local church is always full to the brim. Everyone gets an opłatek to share with strangers and there is a lot of carolling – and we all know by now the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

11. Sending cards is an important part of Christmas

One of the most cherished Christmas traditions is sending cards to friends and family members. Some even break off a small piece of opłatek and put the rest inside their Christmas cards. This way you can technically share it with your loved ones even if you’re apart on Christmas Eve.

While I believe sending cards is a lovely gesture, I stopped doing it a few years ago because I found they pile up very quickly. I’ve been searching for an alternative, so when Paperless Post asked me if I would like to try out their card services (gifted service), I jumped at the chance! Using their service is super easy. You purchase virtual coins and use them to customise and send out your greeting cards or invitations. I love the fact that you get to design every single aspect of your card – an envelope, envelope liner, backdrop, postmark, even a stamp. If you are sending out an invitation, you can use the website to monitor people’s responses. You can even add an RSVP question (meal preferences, how many people will be in attendance, and so on).

A girl customising a Paperless Post card on her laptop

As a fashion lover, the main selling point for me was the fact that they collaborated with some of the world’s best designers, fashion houses and brands, including Anthropologie, Kate Spade, Oscar de la Renta and Vera Wang, to bring out a wide range of unique designs for any occasion. If you are on a budget or would like to try out their service before committing to a premium plan, fear not. They have nearly 1,000 free invitation and greeting cards to choose from! There’s no option to add a virtual opłatek just yet (I jest), but I had a lot fun customising and sending out cards to my loved ones nevertheless!

A girl typing something on her MacBook Air with a piece of cake and a cup of coffee placed beside her

12. Nothing says Christmas like the Home Alone movies

Each year brings about the same discussion – what are your favourite Christmas movies to get in the festive mood? I have already dropped a little hint that my all-time favourite is Elf, but Poles are obsessed with the Home Alone movies (I got bored with them at least ten Christmases ago). If they’re not on TV, Christmas might as well be cancelled. You may think I’m exaggerating… Back in 2010, they weren’t going to show it. This decision sparked such a massive public outcry that they had to put it back on TV!

Festive candles and a reindeer figurine on a window sill

Did you know any of these things? What is your favourite Polish Christmas tradition?

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14 Comments

  1. January 3, 2020 / 5:43 am

    I loved this post so much! It’s so interesting hearing about other people’s festive traditions, I really want to experience a proper Polish Christmas now! I really love the idea of leaving an empty seat at the table – although I’m definitely not too keen on killing a carp in the bathtub! I also had no idea that there were so many gift bringers in Polish traditions! I have to admit, I can’t imagine I’d have had much patience as a child if I’d had to wait for the stars to come out before I could eat, haha! Brilliant post, thank you for sharing.
    Beth x Adventure & Anxiety

    • Dominika
      Author
      January 4, 2020 / 3:07 pm

      Ahh, I’m so glad you enjoyed getting to know Polish Christmas traditions! As I’m an only child, I would get rather impatient waiting for the stars to come out – it’s always easier when you have someone to kill time with! And when it comes to the gift bringers, we only have Santa Claus in the region where I’m from, so I have to admit I was very surprised too when I first found out this is not the case everywhere!

  2. Kayleigh Zara
    January 2, 2020 / 1:27 am

    This was such a great post to read, I love getting to know other people’s traditions! The 12 dishes sounds like a lot but like it would be amazing haha x

    • Dominika
      Author
      January 2, 2020 / 1:54 pm

      I’m really glad to hear you enjoyed reading this post! I totally agree with you about the 12 dishes – don’t know how my mum does it!

  3. Erin
    January 1, 2020 / 11:31 pm

    I love the commitment of it all and how much more there is! It sounds incredible – apart from the fish in the tub lol!

    Erin || MakeErinOver

    • Dominika
      Author
      January 2, 2020 / 1:50 pm

      It makes me really happy to hear that! And I couldn’t agree more about the fish – this tradition needs to end!

  4. katy gilroy
    December 30, 2019 / 12:26 pm

    I absolutely loved reading this. Christmas in Poland is on my bucket list for sure x

    • Dominika
      Author
      December 31, 2019 / 9:29 am

      Thank you so much! I really hope you get to experience a Polish Christmas one day x

  5. December 30, 2019 / 12:00 am

    I totally want to give the show instead of a stocking a go

    • Dominika
      Author
      December 31, 2019 / 9:28 am

      I really like this tradition although I haven’t done it in years!

  6. December 28, 2019 / 12:48 pm

    This was SUCH an interesting post! I didn’t know about any of these Polish traditions – it’s amazing how varied traditions are across different countries isn’t it? I like the idea of not eating meat on Christmas Eve! x

    • Dominika
      Author
      December 31, 2019 / 9:27 am

      Thanks, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I find it really fascinating how much countries vary in terms of traditions – I would love to experience a traditional British Christmas one day! x

  7. December 24, 2019 / 1:20 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, I always find it so interesting what traditions other countries have. In Germany we also give presents on Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas <3

    http://www.anacelinelabod.com

    • Dominika
      Author
      December 26, 2019 / 5:28 pm

      Same here, I love learning about various traditions in other countries! I’m really glad to hear you enjoyed reading this post. Merry Christmas to you too! <3

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