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.