In Poland, Christmas anticipation begins with the Advent. There’s a very nice tradition of a daily mass for children called Roraty. It takes place early in the morning before school (when it’s still dark) or in the afternoon (when it’s dark again) and every child brings a small colorful lantern with them to hold during a procession opening the mass. It is only afterwards that the lights in the church are turned on. This symbolizes a new beginning – new light in our lives. At the beginning of the Advent children also impatiently await a visit by Santa Claus who comes on the 6th of December and brings lots of presents to the kids who have been good and nice. However, the naughty ones are always scared that all they will get this year will be a rod and potato peelings. In the end it usually turns out that all kiddies have been nice as they all get some gifts.
The most important day of Christmas in Poland is the Christmas Eve. Even though it isn’t a national holiday, most people work a bit shorter this day and this is when all the families gather together to eat supper and be merry. In some homes people tend to fast all day before the supper and one can only sit down and eat when the first star is visible in the sky. We don’t usually eat meat on Christmas Eve, too. Among many families there’s a tradition that says that the Christmas Eve meal should consist of 12 different dishes. The food we eat varies from region to region, and even from family to family. One dish most families have in common is the fish – it’s usually carp. Another commonly observed rite is to put one extra plate on the table in case a tired wanderer shows up at your door and asks you to join you. We also put hay underneath the table and coins or fish scales under the plates of our relatives to secure good fortune and money in the following year. Before we eat we exchange Christmas wafers and wish each other merry Christmas. After the supper the part again mostly awaited by children (and many adults, too) happens; we gather around the Christmas tree and find our presents underneath it. The gift bringers are again different in different regions: Aniołek – the little Angel (South-East), Gwiazdor – the Starman (North), or sometimes Dziadek Mróz – Grandfather Frost (East). Where I come from (Upper Silesia) it is Dzieciątko – baby Jesus, and I still remember how, after the supper, I waited with my Dad in one room, whereas my Mum went to “help” the baby Jesus to put the presents under the tree. Apparently he was very shy and that’s why couldn’t be seen by many people. I remember that I really believed in it all and it was a beautiful feeling. After all the overeating and excitement many Poles go to the Midnight Mass which is a very cheerful celebration with much carol singing involved. It is also a religious tradition to visit the Nativity in the church, stay there for a while, contemplate the birth of our Savior and pray. There are really impressive cribs in many churches, often with moving elements or even the so-called live cribs, where parts are played by people and there are live animals. On the 25th and 26th of December the togetherness and celebrating usually continues and both these are national holidays in Poland.
I hope you enjoy this special time of year… I can’t wait to go home and see my family, eat, sing and be merry. Have a very happy Christmas, everyone!