Insider’s Guide To Polish Christmas: How Do We Celebrate Christmas in Poland?

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Poland Christmas Traditions

Polish Christmas is something everyone should experience, at least once. It is the most wonderful time of the year, and literally everyone is celebrating. When you think about Christmas in Poland the second thought should always be “family”. Most people can imagine holidays in Poland without Santa and snow but spending time all alone- impossible!

Loneliness is the worst thing that could happen to anyone during Polish Christmas, that’s why there will always be one free place at the table at every home, just in case someone will come, uninvited. Such a person will be greeted with a smile and tons of Polish Xmas food!

When you spend Christmas in Poland, traditions play an important part, so let’s explore some of them!

Polish Santa Claus

Mikolajki

Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Poland, however, Saint Nicholas is coming really fast in here. 

Mikolajki, December 6th, is a day when Santa is giving presents to kids and adults all over the country. The custom is quite popular in schools- kids draw each other’s names a few weeks before Mikolajki. They should buy a gift for a person they drew. The teacher usually sets a price limit for the gifts (for example no more than 50 PLN / $18).

On December 6th, they are bringing the gifts to the school and leave it in a classroom. It’s quite fun guessing who you got the gift from!

At home, Santa usually comes himself, or simply leaves gifts at the door or under the pillow.

I remember when I was a kid and together with my cousins we’ve been waiting for the Santa to come. When he was knocking at the door, we started to squeal with joy. Then our parents opened the door and he was no longer there. But he left a huge bag with presents for all of us!

Christmas Eve

Polish Santa Claus is quite generous- he is coming again on Christmas Eve!

Well, they speak more accurately, kids are getting presents again that day. Depending on the family customs, the gifts are brought by Gwiazdor (Starman Polish Santa), Aniolek (Angel), Dzieciatko (Baby Jesus), Śnieżynka (Snowflake), Dziadek Mróz (Jack Frost), or Santa Claus.

You can read more about Polish Christmas gifts later in this post.

There are many interesting Polish Christmas traditions worth knowing.

The Most Important Polish Christmas Customs

If you don’t have time for a long read, here are the most important Polish Christmas customs in a nutshell. I am talking more about each of these Polish Xmas traditions later on in this post:

  • Being nice on Christmas Eve (it’s believed that the way you spend this day is the prediction of your upcoming year)
  • Leaving one free place at the table (in case an unexpected wanderer will look for a place to spend Christmas)
  • Placing the hay under the Christmas table (that symbolizes baby Jesus’ cradle and the poverty)
  • Waiting for the first star to start a Christmas Eve supper (it symbolizes the Bethlehem star)
  • Hiding a small coin inside the dumpling (it’s believed that the one who will find it will be wealthy)
  • Trying all 12 dishes of Polish Christmas supper (to make sure we won’t run out of food in the upcoming year; each dish symbolizes one month)
  • Trying to talk with animals (it is believed they can speak during this one special night of the year)
  • Sharing oplatek (Polish wafer for Christmas is a must; everyone is sharing it with wishes, hugs, and kisses)
  • Attending Pasterka (the midnight mass)
  • Caroling (singing carols at home; dressing up and visit the neighbors signing carols)
Christmas Poland
Everyone should spend Christmas in Poland, at least once!

Quick Christmas In Poland Facts

How To Say Merry Christmas in Polish?

Merry Christmas in Polish is “Wesołych Świąt“. In case you have trouble with pronunciation, check out this website to hear it being said by native speakers.

What Are The Most Popular Polish Christmas Carols?

  1. Cicha Noc (Polish version of Silent Night)
  2. Bóg Się Rodzi (The God Is Being Born)
  3. Przybieżeli do Betlejem (Shepherds Came Running To Bethlehem)
  4. Lulajże Jezuniu (Hush-a-bye Baby Jesus)
  5. Pójdźmy Wszyscy Do Stajenki (Let Us All Go To The Little Barn)
  6. Gdy Śliczna Panna (When The Pretty Virgin Was Soothing Her Son)

What Are The Most Popular Christmas Wishes In Polish?

Here is the example of Christmas wishes in Polish:

Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia!
Życzę Ci wszystkiego co najlepsze, dużo zdrowia, szczęścia i uśmiechu na każdy dzień. Aby nadchodzący rok przyniósł jak najwięcej radości.

Translation:

Merry Christmas!
I wish you all the best: health, happiness, and smile for every day of your life. I hope the upcoming year will bring you only bright moments and joy.

Where To Spend Christmas In Poland?

The best place is definitely Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland. You can find lovely mountain cottages in the Tatra Mountains to truly feel the Christmas spirit! Plus, chances for the snow are great.

Christmas Eve

When you spend Christmas in Poland, traditions vary slightly, depending on the family, so Christmas Eve is different for every household. My family believes that the way you spend your Christmas Eve determines your whole year.

So we are trying to be calm, relaxed, not fight with each other and of course… go shopping! If you spend money on Christmas Eve, you’ll do it all year (–> you will be wealthy enough).

In Patryk’s home, Christmas Eve is a normal day until the evening. Christmas starts when it’s dark outside. 

Polish Christmas Eve Dinner – Wigilia

The most important thing during the whole day is Wieczerza Wigilijna (Polish Christmas Eve Dinner). It begins when the first star appears in the sky. 

It’s Polish Christmas custom to leave one free table setting for an unexpected guest.

Spending traditional Christmas in Poland means that at the beginning you pray and share oplatek – the Polish Christmas wafer (little flat bread) with every member of the family. 

Traditional Polish Christmas uszka
Merry Christmas Poland! Here is the plate with uszka, traditional Polish Christmas dumplings.

Usually, there are more than 15 people at Wieczerza Wigilijna (Polish Christmas Dinner) so it takes some time until everybody wishes every single one of family member Merry Christmas. All wishes are personal. It’s the time when we say sorry for our mistakes and say thank you for everything that was good.

The Christmas wafer is something unique to Poland, Lithuania, and Slovakia. Read more about it here. Christmas dinner in Poland really can’t be matched.

Poles don’t eat meat and aren’t supposed to drink alcohol on Christmas Eve. It’s one of the Polish holiday traditions to fast all day and start eating in the evening. 

Wieczerza wigilijna
Traditional Polish Christmas table.

Poles usually put some hay under the tablecloth to commemorate the birth of Christ in the stable. When you spend Christmas in Poland traditions are paramount, so it’s important to remember the origins of Christmas and not only think of presents.

Religion plays a huge part in Polish holiday celebrations, as about 80% of Poles are Catholics.

Polish Christmas Eve Dinner Menu

Have you ever tried Polish Christmas food? It’s so delicious. All of the dishes are handmade and completely satisfying.

According to the Polish Christmas traditions, you should have 12 dishes during the supper. It’s believed that it brings luck for each of the months in the upcoming year.

Carp fish is a traditional Polish Christmas food.
Carp

You can have it fried, flooded in aspic, or baked. It doesn’t really matter- carp is a traditional Polish Christmas food and you can find it at every home during Polish Christmas Eve dinner.

Why carp no any other fish? The answer is simple- poverty. World War II destroyed Poland completely, including the fishing fleet. Carp was relatively easy to breed, that’s why it became so popular.

When I was a kid, almost everyone was buying a living carp a few days before Christmas and keeping it in a bath. Then on Christmas Eve, the father was killing it with a knife. It’s quite brutal, that’s why nowadays, people usually buy killed carp to make sure he didn’t suffer too much. Plus, they are simply too lazy to do it by themselves.

Polish pierogi are popular all over the world.
Polish pierogi are popular all over the world.
Pierogi

Traditional Polish Christmas eve dinner won’t be complete without the country’s most popular food- pierogi!

The famous dumplings come with different fillings, the most common ones for Christmas are:

  • pierogi ruskie (with mashed potato, fried onion, and cottage cheese)
  • pierogi z kapustą i grzybami (with sauerkraut and mushrooms)
  • pierogi z suszoną śliwką (with dried plum)
The dinner starts with Polish Christmas mushroom soup.
Żurek Z Grzybami (Polish Christmas Mushroom Soup)

This soup is a variation of zurek, one of the most popular Polish dishes.

Polish Christmas Mushroom Soup is made of dried mushrooms. It’s sour and creamy- to be completely honest it’s my all-time favorite dish and my mouth is literally watering while writing this.

Depending on the home, zurek z grzybami may be replaced with the red borscht. One way or another, it’s always served with uszka (tiny dumplings filled with dried mushrooms).

It’s quite popular to hide 1 grosz (small coin) inside one of the dumplings. The person who will find it will have money throughout the upcoming year.

The sweetest of all Polish Christmas dishes is kutia. Photo credit: Iryna Yeroshko, CC BY 2.0
Kutia

This super sweet traditional Polish Christmas food is made of wheat, honey, raisins, poppy seeds, and nuts.

They are all mixed together. How does it taste? It’s extremely sweet, so it’s hard to eat more than a few spoons.

Kutia is popular not only in Poland but also in neighboring countries such as Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. That’s why kutia is usually served for Christmas in the eastern part of Poland, especially Bialystok, Lublin, and Rzeszow areas.

One of Polish Christmas food is cabbage with beans. Photo credit: Jacek Proszyk, CC0 1.0
Kapusta Z Grochem (Cabbage with Beans)

Although kapusta z grochem may be eaten throughout the year, it’s the most popular during Christmas in Poland.

The dish can be made of fresh or pickled cabbage (sauerkraut). It tastes amazing and to be honest, it’s different in every home.

One thing that all kapusta z grochem have in common is the strong, sour taste.

Cabbage with beans is usually served with bread smeared with butter.

Be sure to try pickled herring during traditional Polish Christmas dinner.
Pickled Herring

The second most popular fish that you can try during traditional Polish Christmas dinner.

What’s the difference between the carp and the herring? The first one is usually served warm, whereas the second one is always cold.

Pickled herring may be accompanied by eggs, mayonnaise or sour cream. It’s almost always served with onions.

The most popular Polish salad that is also served for Christmas in Poland is salatka jarzynowa.
Salatka Jarzynowa (Olivier Salad)

It’s the most popular Slavic salad that is eaten not only for Christmas but all year long.

Salatka Jarzynowa is made of:

  • potatoes
  • pickles
  • peas
  • carrot
  • parsley root
  • celery root
  • eggs

Sometimes you can also find apple, onion, or leek there.

Makowiec is a must-try during Christmas in Poland.
Something With Poppy Seeds

And finally- poppy seeds dishes. Depending on the region, it may be:

  • kluski z makiem – sweet pasta with poppy seeds and dried fruit and nuts
  • makowiec – traditional Polish poppy seeds cake with raisins

Why something with poppy seeds is one of the must-try Polish Christmas dishes? Because it’s believed that it will provide you the fertility and prosperity for the upcoming year.

Be sure to try kompot z suszu during the Polish Xmas dinner!
Kompot Z Suszu (Dried Fruits Drink)

Last but not least- kompot z suszu. It’s the only traditional Polish Christmas drink on this list.

Kompot z suszu is super easy to make. You just need to put dried fruits (apples, pears, plums, apricots) to the big pot, add water, sugar, boil… and that’s it!

The drink is served cold. Depending on your preferences, you can add cinnamon, cloves, and raisins to it for a more spicy taste.

Unwrapping Gifts

After Polish Xmas Eve Dinner, it’s time for unpacking gifts.

When it comes to Christmas traditions Poland is quite similar to other countries, so most people around the world that celebrate Christmas are probably familiar with this tradition.

Going to Pasterka (Midnight Mass)

Let’s fast forward to the last hour of Poland Christmas Eve. It’s time when most Poles go to the midnight mass (Pasterka) that lasts about 90 minutes.

After the mass, young people play pranks on their neighbors by taking off gates from their hinges. Being in Poland at Christmas isn’t just serious, it also involves a lot of fun and games! 

Christmas Day

On Christmas Day, Poles are simply spending their time with families. 

They are eating, caroling, watching TV, and enjoying the new gifts on this most wonderful day!

christmas poland with family
Us spending Christmas in Poland

Szczepana – Boxing Day

The same thing goes for Boxing Day, which is the second day of Polish Christmas. Nobody works and everybody spends time with their families. 

In the evening, young people usually hang out and party! 

In case you don’t love the cold, go here to find out about other holidays in Poland that are celebrated all throughout the year. Whatever the case, Merry Christmas Poland!

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Do you have any questions about the Christmas holiday in Poland? Feel free to ask me or simply comment below!

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting read. My hubby's family are Polish but we live in Australia. Christmas Eve has most of those traditions but not the 12 dishes specifically. Raw herring is not my fancy but it's otherwise a good feast lol we did a Christmas in Zakopane back in 2008. So lovely having a white Christmas instead of our usual hot summer ones. It's nice to experience such a cultural difference.

  2. So much food! To be honest it's the same in Italy, people eat way too much at Christmas :)
    I love pierogi, I could have just those if they could be made vegan?
    Have great holidays guys! :)

  3. Hi,
    nice story in fact best story i read up to now… spending time with family is the best thing for everyone. and people love to spend holidays with family.

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