Like in most Central European countries, Christmas in Poland is a quaint and much-beloved affair. However, while Germanic traditions, like decorating trees, have spread so far as to be unsurprising, Polish customs remain delightfully distinctive.
Most of the Polish Christmas celebrations take place on 24th December, and even though the day isn’t an official public holiday in Poland, to many Poles it is one of the most significant and family-oriented dates in the calendar. Many institutions stop working earlier than usual on the day of Christmas Eve, which is usually celebrated with a family dinner at home.
Waiting for the first star to appear in the sky
Many Poles wait until the first star appears in the sky before sitting down to eat on 24th December. This tradition commemorates the Star of Bethlehem, which according to the New Testament guided the Wise Men to the birthplace of Christ. Nowadays, with so many satellites circling around the Earth and reflecting light, its sometimes tricky to adhere to this tradition, but many families do their best.
Sharing an opłatek
Leaving one empty place at the table
Once everybody sits down at the table to taste the delicious Christmas dishes you might notice that one place is still empty. Many Poles still leave an empty place set at the table in case a person down on luck should show up and ask for shelter. While this rarely happens nowadays, the tradition nevertheless requires that lone strangers be taken in and treated as family.
Putting hay beneath the tablecloth
If you find some hay beneath the tablecloth at a Polish Christmas Eve celebration, don’t assume your hosts did a poor job of tidying up. The hay is there on purpose, as a way of remembering that, according to the Bible, the newborn Jesus was put in a manger to rest.
Preparing 12 dishes