Hey there, this is Teacher Ola Podcast  episode 26: Polish Christmas Traditions – Vocabulary Booster

My name’s Ola and I’m an online English teacher. This podcast is for you if you’re an English learner who wants to speak English with more confidence and get rid of speaking barriers. Go to my website for full transcripts and worksheets to each episode. Happy learning!

Hello everyone. If you’re tuning in on Christmas Day I want to wish you lots of health, love, peace and faith. I hope you’re having an amazing time with your dear ones.

During my individual online lessons before Christmas I saw many students struggle to talk about their Christmas preparations and customs. This vocabulary isn’t used all year long, obviously and we don’t have many opportunities to use hence it’s sometimes it’s challenging. Most of Polish traditions do not exist anywhere else so that’s yet another issue. Today I’ll tell you about the most common elements of Polish Christmas Traditions.

Christmas in Poland is called ‘Boże Narodzenie’, which you can translate into ‘God’s Birth’

  • Advent

Advent in Poland is considered holy time of preparing for Jesus Christ’s birthday. I’m not gonna jump into religious aspects of advent, all you need to know is that it lasts 4 weeks. It’s more of a spiritual preparation. People try to remember the real reason behind the Christmas Day. Some people make those decisions to give up their favorite foods or drinks or parties as a visual sign of getting ready for the biggest celebration of the year. There is the tradition of the ‘roraty’, masses held at dawn (very early, like 6, or 6:30 in the morning) and they are dedicated to Saint Mary.

  • Santa Claus (Mikołajki)

Festive season really starts on the Day of Saint Nicolas, that is on the 6th of December. This is the day when kids receive gifts, noughty children are told that if they don’t behave well they’re gonna get a twig (rózga). In my childhood, I really don’t remember receiving any gifts on the 24th of December. I never connected Wigilia with gifts. I’m gonna say that it wasn’t just me, just our family. All my friends, all my peers received presents on the 6th of December in the morning under the pillow or somewhere around the bed. The memory of this is so strong, I believe I remember every gift I got from Mikołaj since I was 4 or so.

  • Cleaning

I’d say it’s a tradition in Polish houses, isn’t it? Tidying up before Christmas, means a real deal. It’s washing the windows, it’s beating the dust from carpets or rugs (in the past on the snow, who remembers that?). Everything must be cleaned and ready for Christmas. Some of us focus too much on this part I think.

  • Gingerbread

It’s a cake typically flavored with ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and sweetened with honey or sugar. We also bake gingerbread men, gingerbread biscuits, gingerbread cookies. We use different shapes of cookie cutters (like hearts, reindeer, snowmen, christmas trees) later they’re decorate it with icing.

  • Christmas tree

Traditionally it should be decorated on Christmas Eve (Wigilia). I love tradition and heritage and so on, but I don’t like this custom. We decorate our Christmas tree at least 2 weeks before Christmas. I noticed that the Christmas ambience disappears very quickly, too quickly. And I want to make the most of it, and so I prolong it a bit. On the top of the tree there’s usually a star (like a star of Bethlehem) or a tree topper and the rest of the tree is decorated with Christmas ornaments: like glass baubles, lights and tinsel chains.

  • The Christmas Wafer (Opłatek)

This tradition is cultivated in Poland and Lithuania, and as far as I know that’s it. People from other countries don’t know this tradition, and it’ll be something new for them. Just before the Christmas Eve Supper, before it starts we come up to each other and wish prosperity, hope, health, happiness and wealth. Opłatek is a thin slice of bread, like a flatbread and it’s got the… a picture is pressed  on it  and the picture shows Saint Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. And after we make these wishes, we break a little bit of the wafer and eat it.

  • Unexpected Visitor

Very often in Polish houses on Christmas Eve Supper you’ll find one place (a chair and a plate) left for an unexpected visitor. We believe nobody should be left alone and hungry hence if someone knocks on our door they’ll be invited to share the meal.

  • The First Star

No Christmas Eve Supper (I mean Wigilia) can begin until the first star is spotted usually by the children waiting for it eagerly at the windows.

  • 12 Dishes

Polish Christmas Eve supper contains of 12 dishes. The dinner is vegetarian, all Christmas Eve is a fasting day by the way, so there’s no turkey for sure, but there’s fish, usually carp. Nowadays we buy it ready to cook, but in the past we used to buy it alive, keep in a bathtub for a day or two and eventually kill it. Horrible. By the way, we also believe that carp’s scales bring luck and money so we keep it in a wallet.

Among other traditional dishes you’ll find: beetroot soup (barszcz) with ravioli-like dumplings (called ‘uszka’) filled with forest mushrooms and cabbage. In my family home we never had it actually, our tradition is sour rye soup with forest mushrooms (żur z grzybami). In my husband’s family house hey have both. 2 soups.

Typical drink at Christmas Eve Supper is ‘kompot z suszu’, which is made by boiling dried fruit. Delicious. At the end of the supper there’s also something sweet, my granny calls it noodles with poppy seed (kluski z makiem) but in other families it’s called kutia. Poppy seed is mixed with honey, nuts, milk and dried fruit and served with homemade pasta.

  • Hay spread on the table

Under the table cloth we put hay. We do this to remind ourselves where Jeus was born.

  • Presents

As I mentioned before, presents appeared relatively recently. After the dinner, which is pretty long by the way, we sing christmas carols. Only then we can open the presents. We don’t wait for the Christmas Day. But we have to wait until the end of the supper.

  • Pasterka

Later at night we go to church for midnight mass and it’s very long and there are crowds of people. It ends the period of fasting and celebrates the birth of Jesus.

  • Christmas films

On the first and the second day of Christmas we just sit at the table, eat, talk, eat, spend time with families and sometimes also watch christmas films. It’s on tv so everybody who has a TV turned on watches them. ‘Home Alone’ (Kevin Sam W Domu) is a must, but second extremely popular American film is ‘Die Hard’ (Szklana Pułapka).

There you have it, 13 Polish Traditions and now you can talk about them in English. Let  us know what is your favourite tradition and share it at teacherla.com/26.

If there’s someone who should in your opinion listen to this episode, please let him or her know, spread the word.

Next episode will be released on New Year’s Day and it’s going to be ‘Learn English With Music’ episode, can you guess what song we’ll be analyzing? Have a great week, till next Wednesday, happy learning, bye bye! Merry Christmas.