Christmas is a major event on the Christian calendar especially in Poland where the Catholic Church’s presence stems back to the 10th Century. Christmas traditions in Poland are often thought to be timeless, though some are more recent than expected. Four weeks before Christmas, the process of the celebration called advent begins. The name derives from the Latin for “coming,” and denotes the period in which Christians prepare for the Nativity of Christ. It is a very old tradition practiced in Poland since its conversion.
It is popular among Poles during this period to attend a dawn mass called “roraty.” People attend the mass with candles or lampoons – especially children. The Christmas Eve meal is a cherished tradition in Poland with its roots in ancient Rome’s Saturnalia celebration. Begun in the 18th Century and adopted throughout Poland in the 20th Century, families fast all day before coming together in the evening to eat a 12-course meal.
Dishes served in Poland on this day include borsht with “uszka” and carp.
Borsht is a vegetable soup from Eastern Europe, with beetroot as its main ingredient and “uszka” meaning “little ears” in Polish, which are small dumplings usually filled with mushrooms. Carp is a traditional fish which Polish people eat almost exclusively on Christmas evening.
Following the supper, Polish families migrate to their local church for midnight mass, Pasterka. The first occurrence of “Pasterka” is recorded in the time of Pope Gregory I in the 6th Century. Over the next two days, Poles flock to build and view nativity scenes, believed to have been initiated by Saint Francis of Assisi in the 5th Century. The most popular living nativity scene in Krakow can be found on Christmas Day at the Franciscan Church.
And of course what is Christmas without singing Christmas carols? The first Polish Christmas carol comes from 1424. Today, there are over 500 Polish carols.