Polish Culture and Society: Polish Christmas Traditions

This guide will help you find information about Poland, its culture, history, traditions and life in modern society

Polish Christmas Traditions. Lists of Books

Exhibit: Polish Christmas Traditions

International Area Studies

Watson Library

December 2011 - February 2012


Chwin, Stefan. 9 Wigilii. Warszawa: świat Książki, 2007.

Gawełek, Franciszek. Konik Zwierzyniecki, Wianki i Sobótki: Wybór Pism. Kraków: Księgarnia Akademicka, 2010.

Jaworski, Jan. Tradycje Siłą Narodu. London: Veritas Foundation Publication Centre, 1976.

Knab, Sophie Hodorowicz. Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1993.

Lemnis, Maria and Henryk Vitry. Old Polish Traditions in the Kitchen and at the Table. Warsaw: Interpress, 1979.

Minksztym, Joanna. Tajemnice Obyczajów i Tradycji Polskich. Poznań: Wydawnictwo “Publicat”, 2008.

Bilińska, Agnieszka and Włodek Biliński. Folklor i Zwyczaje w Polsce. Katowice: Videograf II, 2010.

Ogrodowska, Barbara. Polskie Tradycje i Obyczaje Rodzinne. Warszawa: Sport i Turystyka; Muza, 2007.

Pilch, Jerzy and Olga Tokarczuk. Opowieści Wigilijne. Wałbrzych; Wołowiec: Czarna Ruta, 2000.

Silverman, Deborah Anders. Polish-American Folklore. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Stelmachowska, Bożena. „Podkoziołek” w Obrzędowości Zapustnej Polski Zachodniej. Poznań: Instytut Zachodnio-Słowiański; Gebethner i Wolff, 1933. 




Descriptive Labels

Gawełek, Franciszek. Konik zwierzyniecki, wianki i sobótki: wybór pism. Kraków: Księgarnia Akademicka, 2010.

Franciszek Gawełek was a prominent Polish folklorist at the turn of the XIX and XX centuries.  He was a founder of the Ethnographic Museum in Cracow, Poland and an author of scholarly as well as popular works.    

The photograph shows Christmas carolers with a fancy Nativity scene in the village Dwory, near Cracow, Poland in 1905.

The second photograph shows marionettes used during Christmas Pageant in the village Czyżyny in near Cracow, Poland between WWI and WWII.

Pilch, Jerzy. Opowieści wigilijne. Wałbrzych: Wołowiec, Czarna Ruta, 2000.

9 Wigilii. Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2007.

Nine Christmas Eve stories written by the most promising authors of the younger generation. These stories emphasize the importance of this holiday in Polish culture.

Silverman, Deborah Anders, Polish-American folklore. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 2000.

This book is the result of research by the fourth-generation Polish-American folklorist Deborah Anders Silverman. She is particularly interested in Polish-American life styles and the transmission of ethnic folklore through interethnic marriages.

Nowak, Agnieszka. Agnieszka i Włodek Bilińscy. Folklor i zwyczaje w Polsce. Wydanie 1. Katowice : Videograf II, 2010.

 Polish Nativity scenes are sometimes presented in a form of szopka krakowska. Its architecture is based on historical buildings in the city of Cracow. They often include figures representing historical persons and even today’s heroes like, for example, Lech Wałęsa.

Lemnis, Maria. Henryk Vitry. Old Polish traditions in the kitchen and at the table. Warsaw: Interpress, 1979.

This book contains cooking recipes used by Polish people for hundreds of years.

Knab, Sophie Hodorowicz. Polish customs, traditions, and folklore. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1993.

“Another Christmas decoration which was retained for the longest time in the Krakow region was the hanging of a sheaf of grain, the tops pointed down, on the ceiling over the Christmas Eve supper. In some villages it was called dziad or baba or chochol. In Wieliczka, near Krakow, the dziad was hung with the top of the grain pointing down and is believed to have preceded the podlaznik. Straw was also used to decorate the main room of the house where the wigilia supper was held by tucking small bunchesof cheat or rye behing holy pictures or in chinks in the walls. Sometimes these bundles of wheat were made into shapes of crosses and stars called krzyze wigilijne, or Christmas Eve crosses. Two bunches of wheat were tied together in the middle with more straw and nailed to a beam in the ceiling or, as in some villages, placed on one end of the table together with a candle which was kept burning during the wigilia supper. On New Year’s or during the Feast of Epiphany, the crosses were tied on the ends of sticks of hazelwood and stuck into the ground of a wheat field to ward off evil and to bring a bountiful harvest in the New Year.

Minksztym, Joanna. Tajemnice obyczajów i tradycji polskich. Poznań: Wydawnictwo "Publicat", 2008.

Ogrodowska, Barbara. Polskie tradycje i obyczaje rodzinne. Warszawa: Sport i Turystyka - Muza, 2007.

To learn about other Polish customs and traditions please consider "Polish family customs and traditions” published in the series “To salvage from oblivion.” 

The author, Barbara Ogrodowska is a well-known ethnographer and served as a curator at the State Ethnographical Museum in Warsaw for forty years. 

Jaworski, Jan. Tradycje siłą narodu. London: Veritas Foundation Publication Centre [1976?].

One of the most popular and uniquely Polish Christmas traditions is “dzielenie się opłatkiem.” This custom requires the use of a white, very thin, almost sheer, wafer. Each person takes a piece of wafer and shares it by breaking it with every individual at the Christmas Eve dinner table, exchanging best wishes, hugs and kisses.. 

Here is what Father Jan Jaworski, Ph.D. writes about breaking and sharing opłatek:

“In the old tradition, during breaking and sharing wafer, we reconcile all feuds and disagreements. We forgive each other all our faults.  We break in us what is the most difficult to break: selfishness, anger and hate. We forgive our enemies – neighbors. O, the Sweetest Night of Polish custom of breaking and sharing opłatek, the symbol of unity!”