Friday, December 16, 2005

Polish Christmas

I've been asking my students lately about Polish Christmas traditions and all they can come up with are things connected with a) food and b) church.

Agh! I've just used the dreaded "connected with" construction.

Anyway, Christmas here is just the same as Christmas all over the world, really. Except for the carp. They eat carp here.

I heard a story once from an American about his first Christmas in Poland. He went to the bathroom to do his duty and found a live carp merrily swimming laps in the bathtub. Needless to say, he switched bathrooms. I think he felt guilty when he ate the carp later that night.

Carp notwithstanding, everything else is basically the same. Families get together. People cuddle on couches. One uniquely Polish element of Christmas (as far as I know) is opłatek. This is a small wafer (like a communion wafer) that you share with everyone else. It's a long, drawn-out affair that involves lots of cheek kissing. Not quite my style.

Any more thoughts on Christmas in Poland?


At 12/16/2005 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Becca said...

But they focus on Christmas Eve here, Wigilia, not Christmas Day. I was explaining to Marek's mum about how we have our main meal on Christmas Day in the UK and she looked at me like I was from another planet!

Also, they've never heard of mince pies, Christmas pudding or holly.

At 12/16/2005 02:58:00 PM, Blogger Aaron Fowles said...

I wouldn't quite agree. Here they celebrate two days of Christmas, the 25th and 26th. But the feast day is the 24th. In the States, people go back to work on the 26th. Then again, we're workaholics.

At 12/16/2005 07:28:00 PM, Blogger Michael Farris said...

For most people anything overtly connected with Christmas ends with midnight mass after Wigilia (if they go to midnight mass).
The very religious might make it to church on christmas day too, but the religious (and ceremonial) part of the holiday is pretty much all on Christmas Eve.
The two official holidays are usually devoted to visits, family on the 25th and maybe close friends on the 26th (or closer more distant family respectively).

At 12/16/2005 11:44:00 PM, Blogger beatroot said...

I actually think that christmas in Poland is the most alienating thing about the country (and that's saying something!) My girlfreind's mother does things traditionally. No turkey! No wines and spirits!!! In Britain the whole point about xmas is that everyone over indulges. But not here.

Stiil, on the 25th I am cooking duck, with an orange sauce, with roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, and even crackers with funny hats and jokes in them (they don't even know what a cracker is here!).

At 12/17/2005 03:44:00 PM, Blogger Gustav said...

I second the opłatek sentiment.

But have you noticed how the tradition can even bring tears to the eyes of older Poles? It's many Poles' favorite part of Christmas.

I find Christmas here alienating too, beatroot. The 25th is so anticlimactic here.

Fish for Christmas dinner??!

At 12/17/2005 04:28:00 PM, Blogger Michael Farris said...

The tears with opłatek come from the verbal element that is supposed to accompany them. There are supposed to be mutual apologies and forgiveness for past transgressions and best wishes for the future as each person tears some of the wafer of the other and nibbles at it.
It's the kind of communication that English speakers (esp Americans)just aren't very good at. I'm usually embarassed at the eloquence that ost people can call up for opłatek and am reduced to lame 'all the best to you too' generic wishes.

The Wigilia dinner is supposed to be lenten (no meat as on Friday). Meat is okay on Christmas though. The closest thing to a traditional Christmas day dinner/supper would be homemade bigos (one of the few times in the year most people eat it). It can even make it to the wigilia table in less strictly observant families (maybe with the of kielbasa and larger chunks of meat picked out).

I don't find christmas that alienating here (I've never been a big christmas person) but the period before Christmas used to be very dreary. Advent has always been treated as a sort of mini-Lent in Poland and parties were non-existent and outside decoration wasn't especially important.
My first winter in Poland I found the dark and non-Christmasy atmosphere before Christmas to be more alienating than Wigilia (pleasant enough) or Christmas itself.

Also gifts are exchanged and opened on Wigilia but most presents are small token gifts rather than the commercial frenzy of the states (and children get an early december visit from Santa who properly speaking isn't a part of Christmas here).

At 12/17/2005 06:06:00 PM, Anonymous Kinuk said...

As (I think) the only Pole in this bunch, all of these feelings are v interesting. Makes me wonder if that's what N actually thinks, but won't say because he knows how much Christmas Eve means to me (see Gustav's "tears in their eyes" bit).

I've always thought that the marriage of a Pole to an American/Westerner is a great one, if both sides are willing to co-operate.

Christmas Eve: the Pole has his/her way and indulges in a lot of tradition (fishy-fishy here we come!)

Christmas Day: the non-Pole has his/her way and indulges in a lot of tradition (gobble-gobble, said the stuffing as he minced his way across the custard).

You just both have to work at making it happen. But that's what we'll do. That way, he's happy and so am I.


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