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2009-12-16T15:25:14+01:00
In Poland, Christmas Eve is a day first of fasting, then of feasting. The feast begins with the appearance of the first star; there is no meat in the feast, and it is followed by the exchange of gifts.

The following day is often spent visiting friends. Poland is a land of intriguing traditions. Its people have always combined religion and family closeness at Christmas time. Gift giving plays only a minor role in the rituals, emphasis being placed instead on making special foods and decorations.

Special tasks carried out during Advent are the baking of the Christmas piernik(Gingerbread), and the making of Christmas decorations. Pierniki are made in a great variety of shapes, including hearts, animals and St. Nicholas figures. Traditional decorations include the pajaki, which are handmade stars and decorated eggshells.

Beautifully lit Christmas trees are placed in all public arenas, outside churches and in homes. Traditionally the trees are decorated with shiny apples, walnuts, beautifully wrapped chocolate shapes and many homemade decorations and candles. On the top of the tree is a star or a glittering top piece. In many homes, sparklers are hung on the branches of the trees giving it a magical air. Sometimes the trees are left standing until February 2, the feast day of St. Mary of the Candle of Lightning.

During Advent, the Gwiazdory or star carriers, used to begin wandering through the towns and villages and this would continue until Epiphany. Some of the Gwiazdory sang carols; others recited verses or put on Szopki or puppet show, or herody or nativity scenes. The last two customs are developments from traditional manger scenes or Jaselka or crib. One tradition unique to Poland is the sharing the "opłatek", a thin wafer into which is pressed a holy picture. People once carried these opłatki from house to house to wish their neighbors a Merry Christmas. Nowadays, the bread is mostly shared with members of the family and immediate neighbors. As each person shares pieces of the wafer with another person, they are supposed to forgive any hurts that have occurred over the past year and to wish the other person all the happiness in the coming year.

On Christmas Eve, so important is the first star of the night that it has been given the affectionate name of "little star" or Gwiazdka, in remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem. On that night, all watch the sky anxiously, hoping to be the first to cry out, "The star!" The moment the star appears, people start eating. Families unite for the most carefully planned meal of the year, Wigilia, the Christmas supper. The Wigilia derives its name from the Latin word vigilare, which means to watch or keep vigil.

According to tradition, bits of hay have been spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. An even number of people must be seated around the table or tradition states someone may die in the coming year. Wigilia is a family feast and it's considered bad luck to entertain a guest on this sacred night. In some places an empty place setting is left at the table for the Baby Jesus or a wanderer who can come in need or if a deceased relative should come and would like to share in the meal. The meal begins with the breaking of the Opłatek. Everyone at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol of their unity with Christ. There should be 12 dishes - as a symbol of the 12 apostles. Poppy seed cake, beet soup, prune dumplings, carp, herrings and noodles with poppy seed are universal Polish Christmas foods. There is no meat eaten on Christmas Eve. Often there is compote of dry fruits. The remainder of the evening is given to stories and songs around the Christmas tree. It is decorated with nuts, apples and ornaments made from eggshells, coloured paper, straw, and hand blown glass baubles. In areas of the country, children are taught that "The Little Star" brings the gifts. As presents are wrapped, carolers may walk from house to house, receiving treats along the way.
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2009-12-16T15:42:54+01:00
CHRISTMAS IN POLAND

Everyone loves Christmas. It is the favourite and most eagerly awaited holiday in the year. Christmas is on 25 December and it is time when the Christmas celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In Poland we start celebrating Christmas on 24 December and this day is called the Christmas Eve. Then there is Christmas Day and finally we have the Second Day of Christmas on 26 December.
This is a unique time when people try to be kind, friendly and generous to one another. They seem to forget all their problems, quarrels and just enjoy being together. Christmas is preceded by many days of preparation. Streets are lit by coloured lamps, shops are full of people buying presents, choosing Christmas card. Christmas trees are set up in every home and decorated with sparkling tinsel, candles, chains, toys and trinkets. The atmosphere of excitement and expectation can be felt almost everywhere. The day preceding Christmas Eve is a unique one. It is believed that everything that might happen on it might influence the whole year to come. Much attention, for instance, is paid to the person who first enters the house and if it is a man, he ensures welfare to all members of the family. Some people say that if you ask for food on that day, you will be hungry throughout the year. The moment everyone waits for is Christmas Eve. When the first star appears in the sky, people take seats at the Christmas table. The tradition says that there must be twelve dishes on the Christmas Eve table. On this special day we mustn't eat meat. They do not forget about leaving an empty place for an unexpected guest. The table is covered with wite tablecloth and hay is spread on it.