Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas traditions in Poland

Christmas in Poland in some points probably looks like in other countries, in others it deffers. We decorate Christmas tree, buy gifts… *cough*… Santa brings gifts and we fest on Christmas Eve together with the whole family. But of course, we can’t start eating before the first star shines! And even before we sit by the table, we share an “opłatek” between us, wishing each person all the best in the coming year. “Opłatek” looks like the Host and tastes like it, but it’s not the same thing. We also share it with friends before Christmas and we send it together with Christmas cards. People in the country also share “opłatek” with animals, but only these which are believed to have been in the stable where the baby Jesus was born. It is also believed that these animals can talk this one night in the year. As far as I know we are the only country that has this tradition (let me know if I’m wrong :) )

All right, we shared an “opłatek”, now we can sit and start eating. On the table, under the cloth we put some hay (as baby Jesus was lying on the hay after being born) and we leave one empty place by the table for an unexpected guest. We have 12 traditional dishes (like 12 Apostoles). The “must be’s” are:

• Carp

• Borsht (beetroot soup) with little dumplings filled with mushrooms. The dumplings are called “uszka” which means “little ears”. Probably the name is because of their shape :)

• Pierogi with sauerkraut and mushrooms. Or some other filling but on Christmas Eve this one is the most popular.

• Fish in jelly.

• Kutia, which is a sweet meal made of wheat, poppy seeds, honey and all sorts of nuts and raisins. We don’t prepare it in my home, but this is a typical traditional dish that is prepared specifically for Christmas.

As you noticed, there’s no red meat or birds. Meat, excluding fish, is not eaten on Christmas Eve at all.

That day we also get presents. We don’t wait till Christmas Day. If there are no kids in the family there’s no problem with gifts. But if there are children, someone must pretend Santa for a while or get the attention of kids somewhere else and then put the presents under the tree. When I was a kid my grandpa always went outside and knocked in the window. Me and my cousins were running to see Santa (who disappeared too quickly) and at that time the rest of the adults put the gifts under the tree. I need to mention that “our” Santa comes from Lapland – in Finland, not from the North Pole or Coca-Cola factories.

At 12 o clock at night there is a mass in church, were people also share “opłatek” with strangers. Then we have two (not just one) days of Christmas. Time for rest after all the preparations and to watch Home Alone ;P

Merry Christmas!
Wesołych Świąt!

[photos googled]


  1. What a nice post, Aga! Loved reading it! When I was 18 I had a Polish male penpal who sent me "opłatek" once with a Christmas card. I was quite surprised, but he never explained this tradition you have in Poland. Now I know!
    I plan to do a post tomorrow about Christmas Eve. I was wondering if I can link to this post you wrote, too. I think it will be interesting for many people to read it here!

    Wesołych Świąt, Aga!

  2. This is so interesting and I enjoyed it so much as I've never heard about the polish tradition before even though one of my workers is. She always complains that Christmas is such a mess now as children in Poland still only get stockings with simple food items in... I guess not completely if presents are involved. I love the idea of opłatek, what do people do with it once they have received it?

    Wesołych Świąt

  3. @Bea I would be surprised to get it too if I didn't know what it is, so I explain my penpals. I know it's not so obvious for others and I wouldn't want anyone think for example that I sent them Host :P
    Sure, you can add the link:) Maybe someone else is surprised to get opłatek too and they'll find the answer here;)

    @Bubbles I never heard we just get food for ChristmasO.o We break opłatek (it's thin and easily breakable) and each person eats his/her piece. You can also share it as "I'm sorry" with someone you argued with. If you get it with Christmas card you can eat it or can introduce our tradition to your family and share it with them too:) It's a symbol of love and unity.

  4. Coca-Cola factories?! XD haha! that made me laugh a lot!

    Oh I remember the opłatek! =D, it's a very nice detail that we do not have here =(
    You prepare many food! Here are a few dishes... I think ?__? I'll take some pictures tomorrow and explain our tradition, because your blog has inspired me *v*

    (Btw, I know it's late but your Christmas gift is on its way ;D)

  5. :D I think you should make a post like that about Mexico. I remember what you wrote me about Christmas in one letter and you have special traditions that we do not have here.

    (Yours is on it's way too;) But knowing how the post office works between our countries I think you can expect in around your Birthday rather than Christmas)

  6. We have very similar traditions in Lithuania :) so I am sorry to disappoint you but you are not the only one country with "oplatek". Some dishes also match :)Do you have to have 12 dishes on a table?

  7. Oh, okay. I never heard about other country that had the same tradition but I wasn't 100% sure about that. Good to know we're not the only one:) How do you call "opłatek" in your language? Yes, we have 12 dishes:)
    Thank you for comment Egle :D

  8. Well, we share common history and probably culture.. or at least some of it matches. I have not heard about "oplatek" in other countries than Poland and Lithuania. I do not really mind you saying that Poland is the only one to have "oplatek" :) It is probably coming from Poland here. I know they don't have it in Latvia & Estonia (because they are lutherans), so I guess it is catholic thing.

    We call "oplatek" - "plotkelis" which is obviously polonized version of it, but many people also name it "Kaledaitis" due to Kaledos (Christmas) in Lithuanian.

    We also have 12 dishes and originally drinks and bread are not counted in but it is a challenge to make 12 dishes so many people cheat (like us) and include drinks, bread and "oplatek" :))

    We have carp fish usually baked, I know some have jelly fish and pierogi, while we don't have borsch soup or kutia.
    However, here it is necessery to have herring with mushrooms, carrots, red roots (?) (the ones that you make borsch of) salad with peas and poppy milk made of poppies seeds, honey and water with little baked pieces of dough :)

    It is ridiculours how similar we are and how little we know about each other :) I mean poles and liths :)

  9. We don't count drinks and bread as meals either, at least traditionally we shouldn't. In my family we usually have around 12 dishes but not everyone has patience and time to do so and then they can cheat in counting dishes too;) We don't have other meals that you mentioned but even though our Christmas seems to be very similar, and our culture in general, for the reasons you mentioned and we're neighbours after all. Yet, sadly, I sometimes feel I know more about further countries than the closest ones.

    "Plotkelis" sound nice:D I really don't know the origins of opłatek, I guess I should investigate it more:)

  10. Apparently, it's called Christmas wafer :)

    Happy New Year!