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The James T. Callow Folklore Archive

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CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEARS CUSTOMS, POLISH

THE TRADITIONAL POLISH CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS BEGINS BY OBSERVING
THE ADVENT SEASON, AWAITING THE FESTIVE CHRISTMAS. THIS IS
CULMINATED AT THE VIGILIA MEAL, SERVED ON CHRISTMAS EVE. THIS IS
THE TRANSITION BETWEEN ADVENT AND THE DAY ON WHICH POLES COMMEMERATE
CHRIST'S BIRTH. THE WORD VIGILIA MEANS WATCHING AND THIS IS IN
EFFECT WHAT THE PARTICIPANTS DO. THE MENU INCLUDES HERRING, WHICH IS
THE MAIN COURSE. THIS IS EATEN WITH MILK SYMBOLIZING A BITTER-SWEET
TIME OF REPENTANCE AND AWAITED JOY. UPON THE CONCLUSION OF THE MEAL
THE CHRISTMAS WAFER (OPLATEK) IS BROKEN FIRST BY THE HEAD OF THE
HOUSEHOLD AND DISTRIBUTED TO MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY, THE OLDEST
RECEIVING HIS PORTION FIRST. EACH FAMILY MEMBER IN TURN BREAKS THE
WAFER WITH ANOTHER WISHING PEACE AND GOOD WILL TO ONE ANOTHER. THE
WAFER SYMBOLIZES THE BLESSINGS OF CHRIST THAT ARE HOPED TO BE
BESTOWED DURING THE COMING YEAR. FOLLOWING THE MEAL A SZOPKA MAY BE
PRESENTED. THIS IS A PUPPET SHOW RE-ENACTING "THE NATIVITY" AND IS
SHOWN IN A SPECIALLY BUILT, RICHLY ORNATE, WOODEN STAGE. IN THIS
WAY THE CHILDREN OF THE POLISH FAMILY COME TO UNDERSTAND THE TRUE
MEANING OF CHRISTMAS.
NO MORE ACTIVITY TAKES PLACE IN THE HOME. ITS MEMBERS ASSUME A
SOMBER CONDITION OF MIND AND DEPART FOR THE MIDNIGHT MASS. THIS MASS
IS THE TRADITIONAL PASTERKA IN WHICH THE SOLEMN TONE OF THE SEASON IS
HIGHLIGHTED BY THE SINGING OF KOLENDY OR POLISH NATIONAL CHRISTMAS
CAROLS. FOLLOWING MASS THE FAMILY RETURNS HOME AND EXCHANGE GIFTS.
NEW YEAR'S EVE IS NOT CELEBRATED AS A FESTIVE EVENT, BUT THE FEAST OF
THE THREE KINGS SYMBOLIZES THE END OF THE POLISH CHRISTMAS SEASON.

Where learned: MICHIGAN ; DETROIT ; WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY LOUNGE

Subject headings: 122 Christmas
645 645.2
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- January 1 New Year's
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- January 6 Twelfth Day Epiphany
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- December 24 Christmas Eve F122.82
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- December 21 solstice to March 20 Manger scenes
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- December 21 solstice to March 20 Gifts, gift giving at Christmas
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- December 21 solstice to March 20 Songs, caroling
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- December 21 solstice to March 20 Church

Date learned: 11-26-1970

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