Polish Christmas Traditions


The Polish have a rich history with many traditions many borrowed from other Slavic nations and many unique to Poland. Also as a Catholic country, the Polish have many religious traditions borrowed and expanded upon from their time in the Holy Roman Empire. Even the national Flag of Poland, a black eagle, derives from the Symbol of the Roman Empire. Let’s examine some of these.

Before we go into detail about Polish traditions it’s a good thing to know a bit about the Polish Language. Polish is a western Slavic language. Like other Slavic languages (Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, etc) Polish has a lot of consonants. Unlike many Slavic languages however Polish does not use the Cyrillic alphabet, and instead uses a Latin based alphabet. Below you’ll see words such as Sw. Mikolaj. Sw is short for Swatoi, which is common in many Slavic languages fro Saint. Typically in Polish if you see a ‘w’ it should be pronounced ‘v’.  Now that we have a bit of background let’s examine Polish Christmas traditions in detail.

St Nicholas, who is a recognized worldwide but also in the west commonly referred to as Santa Claus, is part of the Polish Christmas tradition. Unlike western Christmas traditions however St Nick is not commanding a sleigh with reindeer. In fact the real St Nicholas probably never saw a reindeer. He lived in what is today Turkey, in a very hot Mediterranean environment by the sea. In the Polish Christmas tradition St Nicholas brings sweets but helps Children to remember to recite their prayers, and gives Holy Pictures called Icons as gifts.

Another important part of Polish Christmas is the Feast of the Three Kings, or the Epiphany. The Epiphany has its origins in the Eastern Church. Many different aspects of the Christian faith have been celebrated during the epiphany, especially baptism and the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan. In the Polish traditions foil, chalk, and incense is used to mark the names of the 3 wise men in the home. Also, priests travel to villages to bless homes.

Another Polish Christmas tradition is Pasterka, which is a midnight mass similar to how Pascha (Easter) is celebrated in other Slavic countries. Also like Pascha in the Polish Christmas traditions a meal is had after mass. The Polish also have a competition of tin paper creations called Szorpka, which is the Krakowian Creche. The largest of these can be found in the Polish City of Krakow. The Polish sing at Christmas carols called Koledy I Pastoralki.

An important part of Polish Christmas traditions is Oplatek which is a wafer similar to that used during the Catholic mass. The Oplatek is much like the Catholic Eucharist but unlike the blessed Eucharist the Oplatek is exchanged between people and also shared with animals.

Other important Polish traditions include the Wycinanki Paper art, and the Sztuka swieta, or ‘Sacred art’. Wycinanki is commonly made of paper but derives from Pre-Christian artwork involving leather or wood. This art depicts various aspects of the Christmas holiday, and began among Shepherds.

The Polish Christmas festivities and traditions are an integral part of the Polish heritage. They represent both the Pre-Christian Slavic traditions of the Polish people as well as the rich Catholic history of Poland. They are a unique representation of the Polish people, and Polish culture. A people search can help you find polish relatives or ancestors.