Christmas Traditions in Poland: Waiting for Wigilia

Christmas Traditions in Poland: Waiting for Wigilia

Christmas Eve is celebrated in countless ways around the world, beyond simply giving and receiving presents. In Poland, Christmas Eve is festive and there’s a bit of magic, as well as profound meaning in every holiday ritual.

MIR’s small group tour, Christmas Traditions of Poland, celebrates this special time of year. Led by Joanna Millick, a native of Poland and MIR’s Director of Sales, travelers enjoy a personal discovery of Poland’s heartfelt holiday traditions.

A highlight for travelers on this tour is joining a Polish family in their Warsaw home for the intimate Christmas Eve feast, Wigilia, complete with a home-cooked meal of 12 different traditional dishes.

MIR's Joanna Millick often leads Christmastime tours to her homeland, Poland Photo credit: David W. Allen

MIR’s Joanna Millick leads Christmastime tours to her homeland, Poland
Photo credit: David W. Allen

The Vigil: WigiliaWigilia is the Polish vigil of waiting for the birth of Christ. It’s a Christmas Eve ritual of magic and mystery, when legend says animals can talk and people can predict the future. Wigilia begins when the first star appears in the eastern sky; that’s why dinner is often dubbed “Star Supper,” or Gwiazdka.

Learning how to cook pierogis. Photo credit: Poland National Tourist Board

Delicious pierogi are garnished with herbs
Photo credit: Poland National Tourist Board

Come to the TableWigilia starts with the dinner table scattered with straw, like the manger, with a white tablecloth spread over it, a candle lit in the window for travelers, and an extra place set at the table. This extra place was originally set for the Christ child, but over the years has become a space saved for the unexpected guest. Special Christmas wafers, oplatek, are broken and shared around the table – even the animals receive them – in the spirit of reconnecting with loved ones before the holiday celebration begins.

 

Twelve DishesFamilies and friends feast on twelve dishes, representing the twelve Apostles and twelve months of the year. These recipes, handed down from generation to generation, originate in the land: grains from the fields, fruits from the orchards, mushrooms from the forests, and fish from the lakes and seas. They might include borscht with mushroom dumplings, cabbage rolls, herring, poppyseed rolls, fruit compote, and kutia, a mixture of soaked wheat, honey and spices. It’s believed that the more you eat, the more pleasure you’ll have in the year ahead.

Poland's Christmas Markets

You can pick up hot and savory street food at Poland’s Christmas Markets
Photo credit: David W Allen

Tradition, TraditionOn Christmas Eve, Santa Claus (Swiety Mikolaj) himself brings presents for young and old, delivering them while the children are outside searching the heavens for the first star of the evening, like the three wise men. Families gather around the Christmas tree for caroling and opening presents. The Christmas tree itself is often decorated with fresh fruits, nuts, and the famous hand-blown Polish glass ornaments.

Take a tour of one of Krakow’s small factories where Poland’s famous hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments are created. Photo credit: David W. Allen

Poland’s famous hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments, made in Krakow
Photo credit: David W. Allen

Magical Midnight MassLegend has it that while walking to midnight Mass people can predict the future – always a happy one. One of the first carols sung at midnight mass is also one of Poland’s oldest, dating back to 1111. At the stroke of midnight, folklore says animals can speak like humans. It is a time of miracles, magic, and memories: As the Poles say, “Whatever happens on Christmas Eve will happen the rest of the year.”

So let it be good.

Musicians in Krakow, Poland

Musicians in Krakow, Poland
Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Bureau

Travel to Poland with MIRMIR has more than two decades of travel experience to Polandon-the-ground support and tour managers that clients rave about. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

MIR’s small group tour, Christmas Traditions of Poland, is a rich wintry journey that brings you close to the warm heart of Poland’s long-standing customs: from a cooking class teaching how to make traditional Polish-style pierogi with your own private chef, to a brisk sleigh ride followed by warming yourself at a bonfire, roasting kielbasa and enjoying a festive tasting of Polish vodka and hot mulled wine.

Alternately, MIR’s Independent Travel Specialists can handcraft a custom, private tour of Poland or any of our destinations, any time of year, around your interests and travel preferences.

Top photo: Community Christmas tree on Warsaw’s Royal Road in Poland. Photo credit:  David W. Allen.

PUBLISHED: June 19, 2015

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