Christmas is the most important Polish church holiday. United by tables and on the prayer intire families, also the ones who rarely meet. The biggest of these holidays is so significant that even grat distance don’t constitute the obstacle. On Christmas, the family and friend are sending to themselves greetings cards, food parcels and presents. They are reaching even into faraway corners of the world,sending Polish national identities, warmths family and the closeness. Christmas is the most family related of holidays.
Christmas is being celebrated at the Roman Catholic Church since the IV century. This is liturgical holiday, connected with concrete date 25 of December, being a symbolic day commemorating the birth in Bethlehem. Before the holiday believers are under an obligation to observe fasting for four week, it’s called Advent. Advent is finished by Christmas Eve, during which fasting supper is being eaten and carols are singing. And the midnight Mass, ceremonial mass at the church at midnight at 24-25 December. With time character of this holiday changed, holiday which before was concerned very joyfully and cheerfully- and at present- it is custom to falling into the reverie and singing nostalgic songs. Christmas is bound with traditions and symbolic, of which it is particularly much in Poland. In the main measure it is family holiday. At presence at the table of the empty place setting, waiting for the unexpected guest belongs to the fine tradition.
One of elements, without which Polish Christmas cannot exist, is Cherub. This figure is not only decorating the tip of the Christmas tree but is also the leading motive for the decoration. In some regions the angel is distributing presents instead of the traditional St Nicolas. The other festive element, also regional, is a Bethlehem shed. Admittedly sheds are being built and exhibited in entire Polish’s houses, but peculiarly a Cracow region is active, in which building sheds of wood became the art. In different regions sheds are often built at churches and frequented by crowds of faithful. Also mistletoe is connected with holidays. Constitutes the symbol of happiness, the peace and riches. The kiss under mistletoe is free from betrayal and evil intentions. Carol singers are well-known mainly in villages. From home to home are walking figures disguised to biblical legends singing Christmas carols. Among them has to be Herod, a devil, an angel and the Christmas mummer disguised as a barnyard animal. During Christmas Eve according to the custom animals are speaking the human voice and therefore a long time ago a wafer was being served them. Christmas carols are a compulsory element of the holidays. Christmas carols are nicest and the most liked religious songs although equally willingly atheistic people are singing them. Silent night – the most beautiful Christmas carol of the world, sung in about 300 languages. An important element of the Polish tradition is also St Nicolas, of which figure the bishop was a prototype.
There are also a few connected customs with the Christmas Eve table. Even number of people sitting besides the table is very important. Before people avoided the number of 13 guests on account of the betrayal of the thirteenth apostle. Similarly on the table it is necessary to find 12 dishes symbolizing the twelve disciples. A wafer is the thirteenth dish, symbolizing the Jesus. In modest houses they were given less: 7-9 dishes. Today’s Christmas Eve’s are far more generous, and it is much more dishes. They are different depending on the region. Under Christmas Eve table a hay has to be found out. Before the peasant put into the chamber specially kept sheaf of corn which a harvest was supposed to mean. Today in the city is difficult to find a sheaves, so symbolic clump of hay is putting under the tablecloth. Empty sitting place has to be found, which is symbolizing the opened door for everyone homeless wanderer, and on the other hand is specific uniting with family and friends who are far away. Most often served dishes are: mushroom soup or the borscht from beets depending on the region, fish of different kind, the cabbage with pea, dumplings with mushrooms, stuffed cabbage with goats, cakes and of course the poppy, nuts and honey as symbols of happiness. At present quite a lot of different fast starters are still being served.
The wafer is functioning in the tradition of the Christmas since the XII century, when it became the liturgical, determined also as the Host bread. Is symbolizing the body of the Christ which in combination with the wine is a base of Catholic ceremonies. Wafers are made of flour and water, the thin cake is baked in waffle irons. Its shapes can be different and usual it has the ornament in the form of the liturgical stage. In Polish tradition the wafer became the symbol of the reconciliation and of the Christian unity, and exchanging Christmas greeting is symbolizing crushing the evil. The wafer replace the ancient custom of exchanging with bread. The tradition of exchanging Christmas greetings is already so strong that became also a property of atheistic people.
The Christmas tree encroached into Polish customs very late although in festive traditions has been functioning since the VII century. It is tied up with the legend of oak, which being cut destroyed all trees without the only one small pine tree. This small pine tree became the symbol of the Little Jesus. The Christmas tree came to Poland in the 19th century from Rhineland, although earlier cottages were decorating with green branches. Eternally green, living tree became the symbol of the heavenly tree of life, hence earliest know apples were its ornaments. Different ornament of the Christmas tree has the equally symbolic significance. Hung in ornaments being cooked by cake, colourful small gingerbread cakes, sweets in bright pieces of paper. Later appears ornaments made of glass, colour baubles, angel’s hair from the cellophane, the candle were replaced with sparklers and with the electric illumination, and the living and smelling Christmas tree was exchanged on eternally lasted product of wire and green plastic.