CHRISTMAS IN POLAND

Polish customs, especially at Christmas time, are both beautiful and meaningful. The preparations for Christmas begin many days before the actual celebration. Nearly everywhere women are cleaning windows in apartments and houses just before Christmas. The insides of the houses are also cleaned thoroughly. It is believed that if a house is dirty on Christmas Eve, it will remain dirty all next year. Weather-forecasting is quite popular during Christmas. Everything that happens on Christmas, including the weather, has an impact on the following year. The weather on Easter and throughout the next year supposedly depends upon the weather on Christmas (snow, rain etc). Only a white Christmas is considered a real Christmas; therefore, everybody is happy when there is fresh snow outside. Some ceremonies take place before the Christmas Eve supper. Among farmers, a popular ritual is the blessing of the fields with holy water and the placing of crosses made from straw into the four corners. It is also believed that animals can speak with a human voice. Straw is put under white tablecloth. Some maidens predict their future from the straw. After supper, they pull out blades of straw from beneath the tablecloth. A green one foretells marriage; a withered one signifies waiting; a yellow one predicts spinsterhood; and a very short one foreshadows an early grave. Poles are famous for their hospitality, especially during Christmas. In Poland, an additional seat is kept for somebody unknown at the supper table. No one should be left alone at Christmas, so strangers are welcomed to the Christmas supper. This is to remind us that Mary and Joseph were also looking for shelter. In Poland, several homeless people were interviewed after Christmas. Some of them were invited to strangers' houses for Christmas; others that were not asked inside the homes but were given lots of food. It is still strongly believed that whatever occurs on Wigilia (Christmas Eve) has an impact on the coming year. So, if an argument should arise, a quarrelsome and troublesome year will follow. In the morning, if the first visiting person is a man, it means good luck; if the visitor is a woman, one might expect misfortune. Everyone, however, is glad when a mailman comes by, for this signifies money and success in the future. To assure good luck and to keep evil outside, a branch of mistletoe is hung above the front door. Finally, old grudges should end. If, for some reason, you do not speak with your neighbor, now is the time to forget old ill feelings and to exchange good wishes. Traditionally, the Christmas tree is decorated on the Wigilia day - quite an event for children. The custom of having a Christmas tree was first introduced in Alsace (today a region of eastern France) at the end of the 15th century. Three centuries later, it was common around the world. Early on, the tree was decorated with apples to commemorate the forbidden fruit - the apple of paradise (the garden of Eden). Today, the Christmas tree is adorned with apples, oranges, candies and small chocolates wrapped in colorful paper, nuts wrapped in aluminum foil, hand-blown glass ornaments, candles or lights, thin strips of clear paper (angel's hair), and home-made paper chains. The latter, however, has become rarer because commercially produced aluminum foil chains are being sold. Christmas and Santa Claus Day are not celebrated at the same time in Poland, but rather three weeks apart. Santa Claus (called Mikolaj) Day is celebrated on December 6th, the name day of St. Nicholas. This is when St. Nicholas visits some children in person or secretly during the night. Christmas Day, called the first holiday by the Poles, is spent with the family at home. No visiting, cleaning, nor cooking are allowed on that day; only previously cooked food is heated. This is a day of enjoyment, for Jesus was born. On Christmas Day, people start to observe the weather very closely. It is believed that each day foretells the weather for a certain month of the following year. Christmas Day predicts January's weather, St. Stephen's Day impacts February's, etc. St. Stephen's Day is known as the second holiday. This is a day for visiting and exchanging Christmas greetings. When night begins to fall, you can hear stamping and jingling, followed by Christmas carol singing outside. Carolers begin their wandering from home to home. Herody, a popular form of caroling, is a live performance usually played by twelve young boys. Dressed in special costumes, they include King Herod, a field marshal, a knight, a soldier, an angel, a devil, death, a Jew, Mary, shepherds, and sometimes the Three Kings and an accordionist. They sing pastoral songs and carols, and when let into a house, perform scenes from King Herod's life. Oration and songs vary and depend upon to whom they are being addressed: the owner of the house, a young woman about to be married, a widow, etc. At the conclusion, the performers are offered refreshments and some money. Also popular is caroling with a crib (szopka) and with a star. Usually, those are items are carried by three caroling teenagers. They, too, are given some money. The Breaking of the Oplatek One of the most beautiful and most revered Polish customs is the breaking of the oplatek. The use of the Christmas wafer (oplatek) is not only by native Poles in Poland but also by people of Polish ancestry all over the world. The oplatek is a thin wafer made of flour and water. For table use, it is white. In Poland, colored wafers are used to make Christmas tree decorations. In the past, the wafers were baked by organists or by religious and were distributed from house to house in the parish during Advent. Today, they are produced commercially and are sold in religious stores and houses. Sometimes an oplatek is sent in a greeting card to loved ones away from home. On Christmas Eve, the whole family gathers and waits impatiently for the appearance of the first star. With its first gleam, they all approach a table covered with hay and a snow-white tablecloth. A vacant chair and a place setting are reserved for an unexpected guest, always provided for in hospitable Polish homes. The father or eldest member of the family reaches for the wafer, breaks it in half and gives one half to the mother. Then, each of them breaks a small part from each other's piece. They wish one another a long life, good health, joy and happiness, not only for the holiday season, but also for the new year and for many years to come. This ceremony is repeated between the parents and their children as well as among the children; then, the wafer and good wishes are exchanged with all those present, including relatives and even strangers. When this activity is over, they all sit down and enjoy a tasty though meatless supper, after which they sing koledy (Christmas carols and pastorals) until time for midnight Mass, also know as Pasterka ("the Mass of the Shepherds").

By Magdalena Goc

 

Christmas Tree
One of the most awaited Christmas decor items, especially by kids, is undoubtedly the magical looking Christmas tree. It is said that Christmas tree was included in the celebrations ever since humans observed these evergreen trees glistening in the moonlit sky on a clear night sparkling against the backdrop of white snow. One of the most import Christmas symbols for centuries, Christmas trees were used in many pagan festivals to honor their gods and spirits. Vikings in North Europe considered these evergreen trees a reminder of the Spring that is about to approach and that the Winter will end soon. In ancient England and France, Druids used to honor God of harvests by decorating oak trees with fruit and candles, just as Romans adorned trees with trinkets and candles on Saturnalia.

It is said that the German Christians were the first to bring the trees into their homes to decorate or use a Christmas pyramid made of wood in areas where there was a scarcity of trees. Soon, whole Europe caught up with the trend and the English Royalty popularized it among the elite. Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, decorated the first Christmas tree. They had then used candles, candies, fruits, and gingerbread. Christmas tree came to America with the German immigrants and was accepted by the general public only in the late 1800s. At the time of the first public display of a Christmas tree by German settlers in Pennsylvania, it was considered a symbol of pagans. Till then, apples, nuts, cookies, candies, colored popcorn and candles were the popular Christmas tree ornaments.

In the early 20th century, electricity brought a revolution in Christmas tree decoration. Electrical Christmas lights grew more and more popular every year and now most communities throughout the US feature public displays of Christmas trees. The President of the United States now lights the National Christmas Tree every year in Washington as an indication of the beginning of Christmas celebrations. The huge lighted tree at Rockfeller Center in New York is quite a spectacle and skaters spinning beneath it look like angels. Christmas Tree has now gained popularity all over the world and choosing the right Christmas tree and its ornaments, placing gifts beneath it and opening them at midnight is all now part and parcel of Christmas fun and revelry.
  
 
Christmas Ornaments
Christmas ornaments are anything that you can decorate your tree with. You may use anything creatively to make your tree look merrier and more cheery such as small teddies, dolls, toys that are not used any more, miniature hats and bonnets, hollies, candies, daisies, toffees, pinecones, colorful and sparkling balls, glass ornaments, clip on fairies, daisies, apples, berries, miniature Christmas angel ornaments and other figurines. Have at least 10 pieces of each kind to ensure a harmonious, proportionate and synchronized look of your tree. You may also choose to put only one of each king of ornament for a non-repeated look.

Switch on the Christmas lights while putting up the ornaments, so that none of them hide behind them accidentally and no gaps are left. Hang the ornaments with colorful ribbons and add silk flowers to lend a formal touch. Red flowers would add to the color and warmth while white ones will give a feel of soft white snow balls. You may use glue to add glitter to the balls in various patterns for that dazzling effect. If there are still gaps, after you have put up all your ornaments, try clusters of dried flowers or small handfuls of twigs sprayed with silver or other metallic colors. Candleholders and small candles give a little old-fashioned but grand look to the trees. However, don't light for obvious safety reasons.

You can also add a look of soft fluffy snowballs with the help of cotton wool spread on the branches. The highlight of all Christmas ornaments is the one that goes to the top of the tree. The favorite items for this position are usually, stars, angel figurines, Santa Claus and fairies embellished with glitter and foil. Place the gifts around the Christmas tree now and your Christmas tree is all ready for the party.
By parlea marioara Foto

Legend of the Nativity

The story of Nativity reiterates the birth of Jesus Christ that probably happened over two thousand years ago. In the town of Nazareth, there lived a pure young woman called Mary, who was engaged to a poor but good man called Joseph, who was a carpenter by profession. Since she was so good, God chose her to bear His child and He sent an angel to the Lady to prophesize the birth of the Holy Son through her womb and that she must call her Jesus. Joseph also dreamt the same thing so that he was assured of the purity and virginity of Mary. However, all people were not so kind to Mary and accused her of loose character and called her names. Joseph came to her rescue and married her.
When Mary was still pregnant, the tyrant King Herod ordered all people to go to their birth towns to pay a special tax. Since, Joseph belonged to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph had to undertake a long journey to pay the tax. Since, Mary could not walk very far, She rode on a donkey for a few days over the hills of Gallilee. At last, they arrived at Bethlehem. Though, they were very tired and Mary was about to have the baby, it was not easy for them to find a room or a place to stay in the crowded city as every inn was already full of other people who had arrived before them. However, one kind innkeeper, seeing the perils of the couple, offered them a place in his stable where he kept his animals, which was the only place available with him.Since, there was no help, Mary and Joseph stayed there and shaped a crib for the baby by stacking the manger with hay and straw to make Him as comfortable as possible. A few hours later, Mary gave birth to her son and wrapped him in strips of cloth. At the instant, Jesus was born to Mary; an angel appeared to some shepherds tending their sheep on the hillside overlooking Bethlehem. He told them not to be afraid and that the Son of God and their Savior has now been born. He then directed them to the stable where the Holy Child was resting his manger. Shepherds immediately set out to see the baby and were much rejoiced to behold Him there and knelt down full of love for Him and worshipped Him.
At that very instant, the three wise men who were Kings from the East also saw a new star in the sky. They were known as Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. All three understood the special significance of this star after studying their scrolls and took gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh respectively for the new born baby and the new King of the world and set out in search of Him. They came seeking for him to the court of King Herod in Jerusalem, thinking perhaps, they would find him in his palace. They requested him to see the child that would be King of the Jews, sending a wave of panic through the tyrant who would no leave no stone unturned to save his throne. However, the King tried to deceive them by saying that he knew of no such child and if they found Him, to return to his palace and take him to the child so that he could also worship him.
The men set out again and were guided by the star to the stable in Bethlehem. They were overwhelmed by the divine presence and worshipped Baby Jesus and gave him gifts. In the night, all of them dreamt about an angel warning them about the devious plan of King Herod to kill the Infant and thus, asking them to go straight back to their countries instead of going to Herod's palace. The wise men dutifully followed the advice of the angel and set out for their homes. Soon after, an angel warned Joseph in his dream that he should immediately leave Bethlehem for Egypt for Herod wanted to kill the Baby. Joseph and Mary set out too with baby Jesus in their hands and safely crossed to Egypt, long before Herod ordered all baby boys in Bethlehem to be killed.

By Parlea Marioara

Romania

We have written our letters to the Three Kings -or the Three Wise Men thatare called too-, of course. Her Royal Highness the Prince Aliatar (Su Alteza Real el Príncipe Aliatar),was in our school last day before the Christmas holidays!!!He is the Royal Postman of the Three Kings. And he’s a very popular andan important figure in the Christmas celebrations of the region of Asturias,Spain.He visited us to collect our letters for the Three Kings. We were verynervous and excited. He talked with us and he gave us a small bag ofsweets. We take photos:

 Epiphany in Venice here is the race of witches

A tradition that has been repeated since 1979, is the race of witches. In Venice, some nice "old ladies" were challenged to rowing on the Grand Canal, starting from the Rialto Bridge. The event is organized by the Rowing Club Bucintoro: The regulation provides that five members from over fifty voghino on "Mascarate", dressed as strictly "Befana".

 

See more here about this tradition:

http://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/customs/kings.asp

  

 

 

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Montserrat Cachero Lopez