The Capital’s highest migrant population comes from Poland. So you might wonder how do Polish people celebrate Christmas?
Christmas in Poland is bound by as many secular as religious traditions, which are often interwoven. Christmas is preceded by four weeks of Advent, during which people prepare not only by praying, but also by fasting or giving up specific foods or drinks, and prepare their houses – by doing a complete spring, or “winter”, clean. So if you have seen your Polish neighbours franticly trying to clean windows of their flats in the recent strong gales, that is why they are doing it.
Polish people start celebrating sooner than Brits – on Christmas Eve. In Poland, Christmas Eve is the most important of all the Christmas festivities. There are many traditions and customs unique to Christmas Eve celebrations which traditionally start with an appearance of the first star in the sky to commemorate the star that led the Three Kings to the stable. The dinner table is always set for one more person than guests, with the spare place kept for any lost wanderer who might need shelter. The table is always set with a white table cloth with a bit of hay hidden underneath.
Before the meal starts, all guests share “oplatek” – a thin wafer made from white flour – and wish each other all the best. A lavish dinner follows – made of 12 vegetarian and fish dishes: beetroot soup, dumplings with cabbage and mushrooms, fish dishes like carp in jelly or fried, marinated herrings, salads, poppy seed cake and others. Tradition says every guest needs to try every single dish or it will bring a bad luck to the hosts. Polish kids get to open their gifts earlier – just after dinner on Christmas Eve the youngest person in the house is delegated as a Santa’s helper and distributes gifts which surround the Christmas tree. The evening concludes with midnight mass and carol singing. Christmas and Boxing Day, as in the UK, are spent with family and friends, over roast dinner, drink and TV.