It’s a new year and I’m three months into life as an expat in Poland. It might seem a little odd to post about Christmas when it’s over and done with, but it isn’t. There are ongoing Christmas celebrations in Poland.
Although I wasn’t in Poland for Christmas and New Year, I have gained some insight from being here and from speaking to my students. It all seems to begin on 6 December, which is the feast day of St Nicholas (Santa Claus / Father Christmas). This is a day for children because it’s when they get their presents from Father Christmas. In case you’re wondering, they also get presents on Christmas Day, but those ones aren’t from Father Christmas. In 2014, 6 December was on a Saturday. I teach on Saturday mornings and I didn’t know this particular day was special until my students gave me a present. I was confused because it wasn’t my birthday and that’s when they told me about Santa Claus Day, as they call it. It was the reverse of what should have happened; the children gave me a present rather than the other way round. Anyway, it was really sweet of them to buy me something.
Apart from that, until a couple of weeks before Christmas Day, you wouldn’t have known it was fast approaching. To be honest, I prefer that. I think the lead up to Christmas in the UK goes on for too long and it’s far too commercial. In fact, it wasn’t until we went to Krakow one Sunday that it really began to feel like Christmas with Christmas markets and an abundance of Christmas lights.
Having spent Christmas and New Year in the UK, I thought that was it for another year; Christmas was over. That was until I returned to Poland. It had snowed while I was away, so it looked like a scene from a Christmas card.
The day after I returned, it was a national holiday, 6 January. It’s a Christian feast day which marks, amongst other things, the time when the Wise Men visited baby Jesus. In the UK, this is the end of Christmas. All our decorations are generally taken down by 6 January. It’s different in Poland. This day is referred to as Three Kings’ Day and is a time for celebration. I was at home with my flatmates that day when we heard music in the street. We looked outside and saw a parade going past our window. People were singing and there was a band playing. Later, we heard more singing and music. This time, it was carollers and a band outside someone’s house. Apparently, they go door to door.
The Saturday evening after that (Saturday just gone), we answered the door to carollers. Two young girls started singing; one was holding a nativity scene. They were great, but they couldn’t speak English, and we can’t speak Polish. We had no idea why they were there because, in the UK, carollers, come round before Christmas, not afterwards.
The following day, which was the second Sunday of the month, we were relaxing in the flat when we heard fireworks. We were surprised, but even more so when the fireworks continued. It was a full on firework display and probably the best I have ever seen. We had front row seats. Better still, we didn’t have to leave the flat. It was fantastic.
When the display finished in the square, another started about a mile away, which we could see clearly because we live on the top floor and don’t have any tall buildings blocking our view. I found out from my students that it was for the Grand Orchestra of Christmas Charity. It was founded in 1993 and is an annual event to raise money to buy equipment for children’s departments in public hospitals in Poland. That’s a great cause.
The interesting thing is that we get to experience all of this because we are living here. Half the time, we have no idea something is going on until it starts and then have no idea why it’s happening until we ask our students. There’s always something going on. Well, it certainly feels like that, especially at the moment.
Christmas is celebrated differently here to the UK. In the UK, it all seems to happen before Christmas Day and ends by 6 January. In Poland, it seems to start closer to Christmas Day and continues for ages afterwards. When will it end? I have no idea. With all the Christmas decorations still up, it feels like Christmas. There doesn’t seem to be any chance of that changing anytime soon.
If you love Christmas, you’d love it here in Poland. They certainly know how to celebrate it.
Have your say
Have you ever been to Poland over the Christmas period? Where were you and what was it like?