Christmas in Poland

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Christmas in Poland is a major annual celebration, as in most countries of the Western world. The observance of Christmas developed gradually over the centuries, beginning in ancient times; combining old pagan customs with the religious ones introduced after the Christianization of Poland by the Catholic Church. Later influences include mutual permeating of local traditions and various folk cultures. Unlike in many other Christian countries, St. Nicholas does not play a major role in Polish Christmas, but instead, is celebrated on his Saint feast day of December 6.[1]



Among the special tasks carried out in private homes during Advent (a time of waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus) is the baking of the Christmas piernik (gingerbread), and the making of Christmas decorations. Pierniki are made in a variety of shapes, including hearts, animals, and St. Nicholas figures. Old traditional decorations include handmade stars, decorated eggshells, colorful paper garlands, etc.[1]

Christmas Trees are decorated and lit in family rooms on the day of Christmas Eve. Other trees are placed in most public areas and outside churches. Traditionally the Christmas trees are decorated with hand blown glass baubles, garlands, and many homemade ornaments including shiny red apples, walnuts, wrapped chocolate shapes, and candles. At the top of the tree there is a star or a glittering top piece. In many homes, sparklers are hung on the branches of the trees for wintery ambiance. Sometimes the trees are left standing until February 2, the feast day of St. Mary of the Candle of Lightning.[1]

During Advent and all the way until Epiphany, or the baptism of Jesus (Sunday of January 6), the "gwiazdory", or the star carriers walk through the villages. Some of them sing carols; others recite verses or put on "szopki" (puppet shows), or "herody" (nativity scenes). The last two customs are inspired by the traditional manger scenes or "Jaselka" (crib). One tradition unique to Poland is the sharing of the "opłatek", a thin wafer into which a holy picture is pressed. In the old days people carried these wafers from house to house wishing their neighbors a Merry Christmas. Nowadays, opłatek is mostly shared with members of the family and immediate neighbors before the Christmas Eve supper (Wigilia in the Polish language). As each person shares pieces of the wafer with another, they are supposed to forgive each other any hurts that have occurred over the past year and wish them happiness in the coming year.[1]

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