As a predominantly Catholic country, Christmas is celebrated widely in Poland. Advent marks the beginning of the festive season, and people try to be peaceful and not have too much of things, not dissimilar to Lent: people give up their favourite foods or drinks, while some people attend mass quite frequently.
During Advent, people get their houses ready for Christmas, doing plenty of cleaning in preparation for Christmas day. Poles see Christmas Eve as probably the most important day of the month, because it is the last day to prepare for the arrival of Jesus. Traditionally, it is a day of fasting and meat was not eaten in any form.
Christmas Eve is known as Wigilia (pronounced vee-GHEE-lee-uh). As well as cleaning the house, everyone washes themselves and puts on festive clothes. The fast is then broken at the main Christmas meal, called “Kolacja wigilijna” (Christmas Eve supper). An old tradition says that no food should be eaten until the first star is seen in the sky, So children look at the night sky to spot the first star.
The meal is made up of 12 dishes – meant to bring luck for following 12 months. Everyone has to eat or at least try some of each dish. A traditional starter is beetroot soup, which may be eaten with dumplings or pancakes.
Instead of turkey or chicken, however, carp is the main dish of the meal. This is because the meal is traditionally meat free, to remember the animals who took take of the baby Jesus in the manger. The carp is traditionally purchased alive, and put in the bath until it is killed by the lady of the house, and its scales are said to bring luck.
As in the Anglophone world, children would also take part in “Jasełka” (Nativity Plays), which often show more secular than religious values. Presents are brought to children by St Nicholas/Santa Claus, but some places are different. In northern Poland, the Starman brings presents, and he is not always good – if someone is bad, he gives a “rózga”, a birch-rod.
The Christmas tree is decorated with a star on the top, and also gingerbread, and “bombki” (baubles). Breaking one of the Christmas Tree decorations is also a tradition in some houses to bring the house luck for the next year.