Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) marks the beginning of the most comfortable time of the year. The Polish decorate their houses for Christmas. Traditional Christmas decorations include spruce and fir branches, and bundles of hay and straw. They symbolize a good and rich harvest in the next year. Some families have an Advent wreath where one candle is lit every Sunday. During Advent, people visit the traditional Christmas markets. The most beautiful Christmas markets are in Warsaw, Gdansk and Wroclaw, for example.
Wigilia – Christmas Eve
The highlight of the Christmas festivities is Christmas Eve, or Wigilia in Polish. The preparations for the feast begin early in the morning as that is when the Christmas tree is decorated. Gifts are exchanged after the meal. There is no Santa Claus in Poland who brings the presents; the presents are brought by the Christ child. There is a lot of singing during the meal and while exchanging gifts.
A true feast
The Christmas meal is lavish and consists of twelve dishes. The number of dishes corresponds to the number of Jesus’s Apostles. The feast includes rollmops, herring and pierogi, for instance. The meal does not begin until the first star can be seen in the sky. Some family members fast during the day and then dig in for Christmas dinner. It is tradition to set the table for one person extra in case of an unexpected guest and in memory of a person who has passed.
Yet before the big Christmas feast, there are Christmas wafers for everyone. The thin baked goods are comparable to edible paper; however, Christmas wafers are decorated with images of Mary and Joseph or the Christ child. Everyone gets a piece of the wafer and shares with everyone at the table, making a wish as they do so. The wafer serves as a symbol of forgiveness, friendship and love. A prayer to God giving thanks must not be forgotten.
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