Christmas (Boże Narodzenie) is the most important celebration in
Poland, similar to the rest of Europe and America. In Poland we have a
combination of old pagan traditions and religion ones. Most of the traditions
are related to the day 24 th of December called “Wigilia” – Christmas Eve and
Christmas Eve Supper. Even if you are not spending Christmas in Poland, it will
be nice to know some Christmas vocabulary just in case.
According to the tradition on the 24 th of December people should
decorate Christmas tree called a “choinka”. Nowadays, Christmas trees are
done much earlier. “Choinka” can be artificial or live trees called “świerk”
(spruce), “sosna” (pine-tree) or “jodła” (fir-tree). A coniferous tree is a symbol
of life and coming back to life, fertility and lasting. The tradition of having
Christmas tree came to Poland from Germany in the 18th/19th century. In
villages, the father of the family went to the forest on the 24 th of December to
“steal” the tree from another world (the forest had a symbolic meaning of
another magic world) and bring it home for good luck.
Every element of Christmas tree decorations have a special meaning.
We put many ornaments of different shapes on the Christmas tree, for
example balls (bombki). “Gwiazda Betlejemska “ (Bethlehem star) is put on the
top of the tree in order to help the people coming back home from miles away.
“Światła” (lights) on the tree protect a home against bad forces and turn away
bad wishes. “Jabłka” (apples) hang on the branches of a Christmas tree are a
symbol of fruit from heaven and would assure health and beauty. “Orzechy”
(nuts) on the Christmas tree are a symbol of strength and prosperity.
“Papierowe łańcuchy” (paper chains) on the tree protect a home from
problems and symbolize close family relationships. “Dzwonki” (Bells) represent
good news and happy moments in life. “Anioły” and “aniołki” (angels) should
take care of home and family members. So, as you see, every single thing
means something because for this magic family time, people were trying to
cast a spell on reality and keep all the bad forces far far away… Decorating the
Christmas tree is also a lot of fun, especially for children. From the moment
when all the lights – sometimes tons of lights- turn on, the magic is
Below the Christmas tree we put Christmas gifts (Prezenty) brought by
Święty Mikołaj (Santa Claus) or Angel (Anioł) or Star (Gwiazdka), depending on
the region. Święty Mikołaj (Santa Claus) is very busy in Poland because before
Christmas, he is brings presents for the children on his name-day, the 6 th of
December. In many places, he must come and work again on Christmas…He is
the busiest Saint in Poland!!
Below the Christmas tree we can find also Christmas nativity scenes
(szopka) with figures of Joseph, Maria, baby Jesus, shepherds (Pasterze), Three
Wise Men (Trzej Królowie) and animals (zwierzęta)like sheep (owce), camels
(wielbłąd), elephant (słoń) and farm animals. After Christmas Eve supper and
sharing the Host (opłatek) and all those good wishes (życzenia) all the
members of family used to sing “ kolędy” (carols) around the Christmas tree.
And you must know that we have in Poland the most beautiful, oldest and
most melancholic carols in the world.
The biggest difference regarding the Christmas tree in Poland is that
some of them are left standing until February 2th, which is the feast of Saint
Mary of the Candle of Lightening in Catholic Church… I believe it’s a bit exotic
for foreigners to see Christmas trees left up for so long…
This article was published in “The Wrocław International”- Wrocław’s first
English-language newspaper, December 2011, Issue 15, ISSN 2082-730X