13 Polish Christmas Traditions {Wigilia Traditions in Poland}

What are some Polish Christmas Traditions?

Why is there a fish in the bathtub? When can we eat? Why is the dog talking? Read on to learn more about Polish Christmas traditions and find out the answer to these Polish Christmas questions!

1. Christmas Cleaning

There is a lot of work to be done in order to prepare the house for the Christmas holiday. The house must be spotless and there are an infinite number of chores to be completed including window washing, carpet cleaning, dusting and more.


2. 3 Days of Christmas!

In Poland, Christmas does not just last for one day, but for three! Christmas celebrations begin on the 24th with Wigilia. The 25th is Christmas Day, known as the First Day of Christmas in Poland, is more relaxed. People will usually visit other family members and share another meal together. The 26th, Boxing Day, is known in Poland as the Second Day of Christmas.


3. A Carp in the Bathtub

Carp is traditionally the main meal at Wigilia. The fish is purchased alive a few days before Christmas from a big tub at the supermarket. The fish is brought home in a plastic bag and kept in a bathtub full of water until it is killed for the meal. Today, many people just buy a carp filet.

It is believed that carp scales bring extra luck and some people will keep them in their wallets for the rest of the year. Some older women will put the scales in their bra for the meal and give them as a gift to guests the following day.


4. The Christmas Spider

The Christmas Spider is an old legend about a family that couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas Tree. They woke up on Christmas morning and found the tree covered in stands of silver and gold form a spider’s web. Because of this story it is considered good luck to find a spider on a Christmas Tree. Some people will even place a fake spider on their tree as part of the decoration in hope of good luck.


5. Straw on the Table

A small bundle of dried hay or grass is placed beneath the tablecloth. The hay is symbolic of the baby Jesus who laid in a manger.


6. An Empty Chair

At each Wigilia table an empty chair and place setting is left open for an unexpected guest or niespodziewany gość. It is Polish belief that no one should be hungry or alone on Wigilia so there is a spot reserved just in case. Some families see this empty chair as a place to remember a deceased family member who couldn’t be there.


7. The First Star

It’s Polish tradition that no food should be eaten until the first star in the sky appears on Christmas Eve. Children often position themselves in a window searching for the first twinkling light. This tradition is symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem which the Bible says guided the Wisemen to find Jesus.


8. Breaking a Wafer

Before sitting down to enjoy the Wigilia meal, guests pass around a large wafer called an Opłatek. The opłatek is a large paper thin rectangle made from flour and water that usually has an image of Mary, Joseph and Jesus on it. Everyone takes a piece and goes to each guest at the table offering Christmas wishes. After the wishes are given you each break off a piece of the other persons wafer and eat it. This tradition is sometimes thought to symbolize breaking bread at the Last Supper.


9. 12 Traditional Dishes of Wigilia

Wigilia is the Polish name for the main meal eaten on Christmas Eve. At this meal there are traditionally 12 dishes served, though the dishes vary between region and family. It is important to at least take a bite of each one as it is expected to bring luck for the next 12 months. For Catholics, the 12 dishes symbolize the 12 apostles of Jesus. Typically there is no meat or hard alcohol at this meal, but it is very heavy in fish.

Read more about Wigilia recipes.


10. Singing Christmas Carols

Some families in Poland will sing Christmas Carols after the meal is finished. These songs are not similar to those found in the United States but of a more solemn and religious tone. In some parts of Poland, more often in the countryside, people will travel between houses singing carols or performing short nativity skits.


11. Christmas Eve Gift Giver

Santa Claus (also known as Mikołaj or Saint Nicholas) brings the presents in Poland on the 6th of December. Each region of Poland has a different thought as to who brings the gifts on Christmas Eve. In Eastern Poland it is Dziadek Mróz (Grandfather Frost), in Western and Northern Poland is is Gwiazdor (the Starman) in Southern Poland it is Dzieciątko (Baby Jesus), Aniołek (Little Angle) or Gwiazdka (Little Star). Sometimes children are told that the need to be quiet during the Wigilia meal in order to not scare the gift giver away.

Read more about Polish presents!


12. Animals Can Speak

This old Polish legend claims that at midnight on Christmas Eve, animals are given the ability to speak. The story claims that they were given the ability to speak in order to welcome baby Jesus to earth. Children sometimes try to communicate with the family pets, unsuccessfully.


13. Attending Midnight Mass

At midnight after the Wigilia celebration, many Poles attend Midnight Mass at the church.


Read more about other Polish holidays and cultural traditions.

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We are Damian and Elizabeth, a Polish-American couple, and we are excited to share Poland with you! We have traveled around the world and seen many places but find ourselves most inspired by our home countries.

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