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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas in Poland

Continuing our series of Christmases around the world, this one is on Christmas Tradition in Poland.

Mesotych Swiat....Happy Holidays in Polish

Polish Christmas Ornament
Wigilia -- The Vigil

For Poles, Christmas Eve is a night of magic when animals are said to talk and people have the power to predict the future. It’s a time for families to gather and reconcile any differences, and to remember loved ones who have gone before them.

Wigilia (vee-GEEL-yah), which literally means "vigil," or waiting for the birth of Baby Jesus, is considered more important than Christmas Day itself.
How Poles Decorate

Preparations begin early on Christmas Eve. Years ago, it was traditional for country families to cut boughs of evergreen from the forest to be tucked behind holy pictures in the home or above the entryway. A fir tree top was hung upside down from a beam in the ceiling. The children and women of the household decorated the boughs with red apples, nuts and ornaments made of paper and bread.

City families decorate with lights, apples, nuts, candies, and hand-blown glass, crystal and paper ornaments. Hung from the ceiling are pajaki, spider-web-like decorations, and dozynki, colorful harvest wreaths decorated with flowers and stars. In Krakow, there are szopki (SHOP-kee) -– miniature Krakowian puppet theaters. These elaborate creations are made of tin foil and entered into competition each year on the square of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Krakow.
The Table Is Prepared

Spider-web-like Decoration

Szopki (Shop-kee) Miniature Krakowian Puppet Theater
Source via ~ Pinterest  ~ Originally pinned by Joanne Simplecrea
Straw or hay, a reminder of Christ’s birth in a stable, is placed under a white linen tablecloth, which symbolizes Mary’s veil, which became the Babe’s swaddling cloth. The mother of the family places a lighted candle in the window to welcome the Christ Child. The eldest woman of the house places the blessed Communion-like wafers –- oplatki (oh-PWAHT-kee) -– on the finest plate she owns. Today, in a concession to tradition, many people place straw and evergreen sprigs on a serving platter covered with a fine white napkin on which the oplatki rest.

Oplatki (Oh-Pwaht-kee)
Blessed Communion Wafer
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An extra place is set for any weary stranger who happens to pass by, in the same way Joseph wandered from home to home looking for a place for Mary to give birth, and in memory of those who are departed.
The Star Supper

After sunset, the youngest child is sent to watch for the first star. This is why the wigilia dinner is also known as the Star Supper. Only then are the candles on the table lit and the dinner begun. But not a morsel is eaten before the "breaking of the oplatki."

The eldest family member takes the oplatek wafer, breaks it and shares it with the next eldest with wishes for good health and prosperity, and a kiss on each cheek. Each person then exchanges oplatek with everyone else at the table. It can be a very emotional time as grudges are forgotten and deceased family members are remembered.

Some Poles share a pink-colored oplatki with the household (and barnyard) animals because they were the first to greet the Baby Jesus at midnight. The animals also receive a taste of every course of the meal mixed in with their feed.

Instead of sending Christmas cards to friends and family not present, Poles send oplatki, first tearing off a small corner to show that the donor has broken it with them as a token of affection.
The Wigilia Meal

Wigilia is a meatless meal because, years ago, Roman Catholics fasted for the four weeks of Advent, including Christmas Eve. In the past there were thirteen main dishes (representing the Apostles and Christ), but, these days, many families have replaced this tradition with a twelve-fruit compote for dessert.

12 Fruit Kompot
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The foods are to represent the four corners of the earth -- mushrooms from the forest, grain from the fields, fruit from the orchards, and fish from the lakes and sea.

Meals vary from family to family but usually include a special soup followed by many elegant fish preparations, vegetables, and pierogi.

Typical dishes include barszcz wigilijny z uszkami (Christmas Eve borscht with mushroom uszka dumplings), carp in aspic, herring (sledze), breaded whitefish, meatless cabbage rolls (golabki), and noodles with poppyseed. Desserts might include nuts, tangerines, chocolates, makowiec (poppyseed roll), mazurek (a jam-filled flat pastry), piernik (honey-spice cake), pierniczki (gingerbread cookies), kompot (fruit compote), cognac, liqueurs, mead and krupnik (a honey-spiced vodka). Kutia, a kind of gruel with cracked wheat and honey, is also eaten in some parts of Poland on Christmas Eve.

Wigilijny Zuszkami (Christmas Eve Borscht with Mushroom Uszka Dumplings0
Source via ~  Google Images

Carp in Aspic,
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Noodles and Poppyseeds
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Golabki (Meatless cabbage rolls
Makowiec (Poppy Seed Roll)
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Mazurka ( Jam filled Flat Pastry)
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Piernik (Honey Spice Cake)
Pierniczki (Gingerbread Cookies)
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The Starman Makes an Appearance

At the end of supper, Father Christmas, known as The Starman (very often the parish priest in disguise), accompanied by singing Starboys, pays a visit. He brings rewards to good children from Starland, and scolds the naughty ones, who eventually get their reward, too.

Father Christmas ~ The Starman

Koledy -– carols -– are sung and presents are opened by all. Then the family prepares for Midnight Mass known as Pasterka or Shepherds Mass because they were the first to greet the Baby Jesus.
Christmas Day

Wesolych swiat (veh-SOH-wik SHVYOHNT)! Merry Christmas! Christmas day is spent visiting family and friends. Dinner typically is ham, some type of Polish kielbasa, roast duck or goose, or Hunter’s stew -– bigos. Starboys go caroling from house to house carrying the szopka, a miniature puppet theater that recreates the Nativity story.

This is a lovely tradition rich in history and so far my favorite.  :)  Tune in next week for more traditions.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Tradition ~ The Netherlands

Continuing with our Series of Christmas Traditions, this is about The Netherlands.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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In the Netherlands, Christmas is a two-day affair, celebrated mainly on the 25th and 26th of December. It is one of the most awaited festivals of the year and is observed with much fanfare and enthusiasm. The Dutch celebrate this occasion by decorating their homes and gardens. The streets and stores are wonderfully adorned, each displaying a colorful fa├žade. The celebration starts as early as December 5. The day is commemorated to celebrate the arrival of Sinterklaas Avond or St. Nicholas Eve. Unlike many other countries, the concept of Santa Claus giving gifts is not present. Instead, in Netherland, St. Nicholas hands over the presents to all the good children.

Christmas Celebrations in Netherlands:

St Nicolas Day is a very special occasion for the Dutch, who celebrate the festival with much glory and grandeur. On St Nicholas Eve, children put out hay for Sinterklaas's white horse and set out their shoes, in anticipation of the candy and presents that they would receive. On December 6 i.e. St Nicholas Day, people celebrate the festival with family and close relatives, after which starts the preparation for the D-Day or Christmas. The Dutch families start with cleaning and purification of the house. Once the cleaning is done, decorations start.

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Around Christmas, houses, streets and stores in Netherlands look majestic and royal in their new found style. In case of Christmas tree, known as Paradise tree, people either go for the artificial tree available in the stores or buy the real pine trees. Some people even build wooden Christmas pyramids and decorate them with evergreens and candles. Glass baubles, bells and stars, small electric lights and other items of adornments are also seen on the Christmas tree. The custom of Midwinter Horn Blowing is still practiced in some parts of the Netherlands, which basically starts on Advent Sunday and continues until Christmas Eve.

Christmas Tree
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At dusk, farmers take long horns made from elder trees and blow them while standing over wells. The well, in return, lends an eerie sound to the call, which states the announcement of the coming Christ. Unlike the western countries, Christmas is celebrated on two days, in Netherland. On the First day of Christmas, the Christmas tree is lit with real candles. People attend prayers in the church, after which families gather together to eat dinner, at a candle-lit table that is decorated with green, white and red trimmings.

Source via ~ ?

Venison, hare, goose or turkey, along with Kerstbrood (Christmas loaf), Kerstkrans (Christmas Ring) and different kinds of puddings, are served in dinner. Once it is over, the family sits together and sings Christmas carols and narrates the birth of Jesus. The Second Day of Christmas is basically a leisure holiday. On this day, the Dutch people relax and unwind themselves. Attending plays or going to the restaurant are some of the favorite activities they indulge in. All in all, Christmas in the Netherlands is the time for indulging in sanctimonious practices and merry making.

Source via ~ Google Images

Kerstkrans (Christmas Ring)
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The Netherlands
Source via ~ Google Images
Wooden Shoes Filled With Candy and Flowers
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I hope you enjoyed this series of Christmas traditions. Stay tuned for a new one on Thursday. :)
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