Christmas Lyn

Christmas in Poland

Updated January 9, 2024
Source: Pixabay

Christmas in Poland is a holiday dedicated to family gatherings, almsgiving, and embracing tradition.

Polish Christmas traditions combine penance with fun – locals observe the Advent custom, attend church services, shop at Christmas markets, and sing carols.

Poles spend Christmas Eve quietly with their loved ones, enjoying traditional food, drinking, and exchanging wishes and gifts.

On Christmas Day, most people rest after festivities, but some go out to meet friends, attend Christmas events, or skate on ice rinks.

Poland undoubtedly deserves a place on your must-visit Christmas list. This country with rich culture has plenty of amusements to offer in wintertime.

Christmas Decorations in Poland

Polish Christmas decorations are pretty traditional and modest. Poles decorate Christmas trees with baubles, tinsel, ornaments with holiday symbols, stars, and fairy lights. The Christmas tree is typically natural because Poland is rich in forests.

However, one element makes Polish Christmas trees unique – they are adorned with apples, sweets, cookies, and nuts wrapped in colorful paper. Some people still use Soviet-era glass ornaments (they are unbreakable).

Advent wreaths hanging above the fireplace, on the door, or put on the table as a candleholder are a must in every Polish home. Garlands from evergreen branches, candied fruits, pinecones, and artificial snow are very popular in Poland.

Some Poles buy traditional Lithuanian ornaments called himmeli made from straw at Christmas markets and hang them on the Christmas tree or in doorways.

The most religious Poles set up nativity scenes on their windows or fireplaces, but the custom isn’t as widespread as in Latin America, for example. You’re more likely to see a candle bridge or paper star lantern.

Like many Eastern Europeans, Poles decorate the Christmas table with a white tablecloth, hay, and candles. Each of these decorations carries profound significance.

The liturgical color white represents purity, and candles symbolize Jesus as the light of the world. Hay is a reference to the humble conditions Jesus was born in.


The tradition of lighting a candle in an Advent wreath every Sunday for four weeks preceding Christmas is a long-standing one, universal for Christians worldwide.

Poles put the candles in an Advent wreath or a four-candle holder. The candles are traditionally purple and pink because the liturgical color purple represents penance and pink joy. Some also light the fifth candle on Christmas Eve, representing Christ himself.

Each of the Advent candles has a special meaning and prayer. The first candle stands for hope, the second for faith, the third for joy, and the fourth for peace. These are the four virtues Jesus brought Christians.

Each Advent Sunday is a mini-Christmas for Poles. People gather with family to eat traditional food, sing carols, play board games and pray.

Because winters in Poland are cold, many make fire and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine, watching the candles burn.

An Extra Seat

A unique Polish Christmas tradition is leaving an empty seat, plate, and cutlery for an unexpected guest. This custom symbolizes hospitality and generosity everyone should embrace not only for Christmas but year-round.

According to the tradition, the empty seat is left for a traveler or homeless person, but in reality, it usually remains empty or is taken by a friend who decides to unexpectedly visit the home.

This custom makes perfect sense in regard to the holiday. In the nativity story, Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because of the census and strived to find an inn to spend the night but couldn’t.

You know the rest – they spent the night in a stable where Jesus was born. By leaving an empty seat, Poles symbolically welcome Jesus into their hearts.

Traditional Feast

Although over 80% of Poles identify as Catholic Christians, who don’t observe the Nativity Fast, many people fast on Christmas Eve until the night arrives. People refrain from eating anything solid until the first star appears in the sky.

Then, family members can break Christmas wafers, exchange wishes, and begin the feast. Fasting cleanses the soul and body, freeing people from negative thoughts and emotions. Even such short fasting is an act of penance.

The dinner usually starts with wheat and berry pudding called kutya. Then, Poles eat salads – for example, shredded beet and wine vinegar salad.

An unusual Polish Christmas dish worth trying is layered herring salad, known as “herring under a fur coat.” The salad is made with herring (obviously), boiled potatoes, carrots, eggs, onion, and beetroot layered with mayo.

Soups are also common, including pea soup, fish soup, mushroom soup, and barszcz – beetroot, meat, potato, garlic, and carrot soup served with sour cream and rye bread.

Grandma’s golumpki, cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice, are favored by Poles year-round, and Christmas isn’t an exception. The same applies to a Greek-style white fish dish with root veggies and tomato paste coating.

Some families serve sauerkraut and sausages, a German cuisine staple. Kolaczki, buttery cookies with jam sprinkled with sugar powder, are a must-have on the Polish Christmas feast.

Poles also like gingerbread, but Polish gingerbread is different from American or German. Polish gingerbread cookies aren’t shaped like hearts or men but are round and topped with a sugar glaze.

As for drinks, Poles prefer either mulled wine or various Polish spirits like Goldwasser, Starka, Krupnik, and Miod Pitny. Of course, vodka is also popular among Poles.

Christmas Markets

Christmas in Poland is unimaginable without Christmas markets. Despite German influence on Polish culture, the tradition is relatively new to the region.

The first Christmas markets in Poland start appearing in early December and last until Boxing Day, though some close only after Epiphany.

Poland is famous for its fantastic architecture, and Warsaw certainly isn’t the only town worth visiting. Beautiful Christmas markets take place in Krakow, Poznan, Wroclaw, Gdansk, Bialystok, and other Polish towns.

Krakow Christmas market is the largest and oldest in the country, welcoming thousands of visitors annually. The Wroclaw Christmas fair isn’t as crowded as that in Krakow but equally amusing.

Local artisans sell arts, crafts, gifts, and traditional food in cozy wooden stalls set on central town squares. Some markets also offer activities for the entire family, such as ice skating and merry-go-rounds.

Church Services – Pasterka

Midnight Mass in Poland is known as Pasterka, translated as Shepherd’s Mass. The name refers to shepherds who were the first to find out about Jesus’ birth in the nativity story.

In Luke, shepherds guard their flock when an angel appears to them and tells them that the Messiah is born. They then rush to Bethlehem to worship him.

Shepherds weren’t chosen by chance. Back in the day, they were considered outcasts of society because of their dirty work. Angel appeared to shepherds to show that everyone is equal in the eyes of God.

Poles go to church on Christmas Eve at about 10 p.m. They listen to biblical readings and traditional hymns. The mass ends around midnight, after which everyone goes home to continue celebrating with family.

Gift Exchange

Poles traditionally exchange gifts with family after Christmas Eve dinner. Everyone places gifts under the Christmas tree, and one family member sits underneath it to read the labels and distribute boxes to recipients.

Kids anticipate gifts from Santa Claus. Polish Santa Claus goes under the name Święty Mikołaj, translated as Saint Nicholas, indicating his origin.

Although Polish Santa has the same roots as American Santa, he looks more like a bishop than a jolly old man from Coca-Cola commercials. Some kids believe in other gift-givers, for example, Gwiazdor (Starman).

Starman wears sheepskin, a fur hat, and a bearded mask. Unlike Santa, Starman not only brings gifts to good children but also punishes the naughty ones with his birch rod. He expects all children to recite a poem.

Some Polish kids believe in Christkindl, particularly in the Upper Silesia region. Christkindl is a Lutheran gift-giver introduced by a German politician Martin Luther as an alternative to Santa Claus.

Orthodox Polish children await gifts from Grandfather Frost, a Slavic mythological figure who became popular in the region in the Soviet period.

Regardless of the gift-giver, Polish children always get gifts under the Christmas tree rather than in stockings hanging on the fireplace.


Caroling is a Christmas tradition widespread across Europe, and Poland isn’t an exception. After dinner, people sing traditional Polish Christmas carols with their families.

Poles sometimes sing famous hymns like The Twelve Days of Christmas and Silent Night. Still, most prefer local songs like Bóg Się Rodzi (God is Born), Anioł Pasterzom Mówił (The Angel Told the Shepherds), and Przybieżeli do Betlejem (They Came to Bethlehem).

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, groups of carolers visit houses in their neighborhood, singing at doorsteps in exchange for treats and blessings. The custom is prevalent in the countryside.

In large Polish towns, tourists and locals can enjoy traditional singing at Christmas concerts held in central squares and in halls.

Polish Christmas hymns are usually solemn and religious in character. However, local shopping malls and bars are more likely to play famous holiday songs like Frosty the Snowman and Jingle Bells.

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