Christmas in Poland

If you’re reading this content that means that you’re, either preparing yourself for the upcoming Christmas season and you don’t want to get surprised by Polish celebrations, or you’re just using your mobile phone in the middle of the Christmas dinner because you saw so many “weird” things and you were asked so many different questions, that Poland Unraveled is your last hope. Don’t worry, either way, we’ve got your back. This guide has all the essential information you need to indulge and fully appreciate the Polish Christmas culture (and if you are interested in Christmas food, you can read our Polish Christmas dinner and dishes guide).

Polish Christmas traditions – the handy guide to indulge in Polish Christmas live

Religious aspect of Christmas in Poland

As you might know, Poland is a very religious country. Many traditions and customs originate from Christianity. Although there are some traditions that developed just in Poland and have nothing to do with religion.

Christmas Holidays commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. The night before is called ‘Wigilia’ and the three week period prior to the Christmas celebrations is called Advent. The main part of Wigilia is a solemn, family supper, which starts right after the appearance of the first star in the sky. It is the symbol of the Bethlehem Star and the rumour is that this particular star was shown to the three kings by God to guide them to the stable where Christ was born.

Traditional aspect of Christmas in Poland

In a Polish home, the whole family is involved in preparation for Christmas. We cook, clean houses, buy gifts and decorate the Christmas tree, always with the whole family involved. At the beginning of December, shops and streets are starting to shine and Christmas Carols and songs fill every room. The most recognisable and probably the most hated Christmas song in Poland is Last Christmas…It’s not because it’s not catchy or not appropriate, but imagine yourself sitting around listening to the same single song over and over and over (radio stations are to blame!).

Christmas Holidays start on the 24th of December. Once the first star is in the sky and all Christmas dishes are cooked, the family gathers around the table and the celebrations begin. There is a wide variety of Polish Christmas Eve traditions and they really depend on the region of Poland. The most common and popular of Christmas traditions are laid out below:

Sharing Christmas wafer – usually takes place before the main supper. During this moment, family members wish all the best to each other. Even if they don’t like each other. Honestly.

Serving twelve dishes (referring to the twelve apostles) – well, the truth is that Christmas is really about food and eating delicious dishes. In reference to the twelve apostles, there should be twelve dishes present at the Polish Christmas dinner table. What can you find there? Herring in cream and oil, cabbage with peas, carp (probably the most popular fish in Poland to be served during Christmas and, what’s interesting, is not really eaten any other day of the year ), dumplings (pierogi!), borscht with…pierogi and much more (pierogi for example)! The meal traditionally doesn’t contain any meat dishes except fish. Every dish should be at least tried as it brings good luck for the upcoming 12 months of the new year. So prepare yourself for a massive feast and probably trying something you had never eaten before.

Preparing an extra seat for the unexpected guest – in case a homeless person or a traveller from far, far away comes to your home during Christmas Eve, an extra seat and cutlery are prepared in case such a person comes, they can join the hosts and celebrate the holidays.

Fasting – well…it’s not only about meat. If you ask us, from what we know, the food in Polish kitchens that day is so good that people who really don’t eat before the main supper are heroes. It’s hard, you know…

Hay on the table – nowadays, it’s a very rare tradition. But some people put hay on the table and cover it under the tablecloth. It probably has something to do with the fact that Jesus Christ was born on the hay in the stable.

Giving gifts – we give gifts to each other right after Christmas supper. For the youngest, this is the most exciting part of Christmas. But not only for them! All of us like to receive gifts, including the Poland Unraveled team….just saying… If you are looking for a Polish Christmas gift idea have a look at our curated list.

The midnight mass – at midnight between the 24th and 25th of December, Midnight Mass takes place. Midnight Mass commemorates the expectation and prayer of shepherds on their way to Bethlehem. This is one of the most important Polish traditions.

After Christmas Eve

If you think that the celebration and the food itself ends after Christmas Eve you are wrong. It’s just the beginning. The 25th of December is the day of Christ’s birth. Polish families go to church, everybody sings carols, enjoys themselves, and of course wine and dine the whole day. As well as this, the next day is the time that family members visit each other and very often people have to eat a couple of dinners before they get back home.

The last day of Christmas is the 26th of December. In Poland, we call it just ‘the second day of holidays’. This day commemorates the first martyr who was fighting for the Christians faith, named Saint Szczepan. All the people who are still alive after consuming such an amount of food (yes, we eat lots of food during Christmas…) go for a long walk with the family to have some fresh air and enjoy their company.

Well, that’s basically it. Although the religious aspect of Christmas, the 25th of December is the most important day of the holiday season, the truth is that it’s the Christmas Eve that has the largest number of traditions and customs. Also, for many families, it’s the most important time to meet and spend time together. We hope you now know a little bit more about this time of year in Poland and you are able to enjoy it as much as we do!

Merry Christmas! (Wesołych Świąt!)

If you ask a Polish person what they like the most about Christmas they may say family time, being off or Christmas atmosphere, but the truth is that is all about food. Christmas Polish food is festive, very traditional and exceptionally good. And the most exciting of all is the Christmas Eve meal. Dishes served on the 24th are made only once a year and the recipes used to make them are often family secrets that are passed down from generation to generation. The preparation of the Christmas Eve feast can take days. Rules are strict, the workload is high, but the reward is absolutely worth it.

If you are spending your next Christmas with a Polish family or you want to cook something different this year this ultimate guide to Polish Christmas food is for you.

Polish Christmas Eve dinner

In Poland, the 24th of December is probably the most important day of Christmas and therefore the most effort goes into the preparation of the Christmas Eve dinner. The tradition says that there must be exactly 12 dishes (including desserts) on the table and everyone has to try every each of them. Thanks to that the whole year (12 months) is going to be happy and successful.

Traditional Christmas soups

Christmas beetroot soup

What is served that evening depends very much on the region, but there are also a lot of similarities. What you can be sure of is that there will be no meat on the table. Until the midnight mass, the lent is still on so Christmas Eve dinner is all about fish, winter vegetables, and wild mushrooms.

The dinner starts with a soup. The most common choice is clear, bullion style beetroot soup served with small dumplings stuffed with cabbage and mushroom (here is the recipe if you fancy trying making it yourself). Other options are fish soup or wild mushroom soup. Both quite light and clear. The main purpose of the soup is to start the digestion process and allow you to eat more later. Let’s face it, you need to eat 11 more dishes that evening!

Christmas fish dishes

The biggest star of the evening, and that can surprise many people, is carp. This fish is not eaten in Poland on any other occasion but for some weird reason, it became Christmas Eve staple. If you want to watch something quite disturbing you can google how people used to keep live carps in their bathtubs and kill them just before the Christmas dinner. This custom died out with the end of communism and thankfully now carps are sold dead and even filleted. Carps are prepared in many different ways: fried, roasted, in gelly (yes, you read it correctly) as a soup or in the traditional Jewish way.

Another really important fish on the Christmas Eve table is herring. Pickled and prepared with onion or plums it’s a quite popular choice for busy people who can buy it prepared and ready to be eaten. Other families prefer it in cream or as a part of a potato salad.

Fish in any shape or form is Polish Christmas classic

Last but not least white fish like cod or hake is very often fried or roasted and served as another choice. Poland has some funny communistic dishes that became part of the tradition and one of them is Greek style fish dish that has nothing to do with Greece. White fish is fried and then roasted with grated rooted vegetables like carrot and parsley and tomato concentrate (all those things were available during communism) and served proudly on the Christmas table. It may not be Greek, but it is delicious so don’t be shy to try it.

Other Christmas Eve hits

Pierogi are one of the most popular Christmas Eve dishes
Pierogi are one of the most popular Christmas Eve dishes

Thankfully for people who don’t like fish, there are other specialities. Pierogi stuffed with wild mushroom or cabbage (or a mix of both), fried with onion can please even the most sublime palate. Going with the cabbage theme, lots of families prepare cabbage cooked for hours with wild mushroom and a bit of sauerkraut for the right balance of flavours. In different regions cabbage is cooked with peas. And if you are lucky you may even have a chance to try both.

Cakes and Christmas Eve desserts


If you fancy something a bit sweeter you should try Kutia. Tradition Kutia is made of wheat berries, poppy seeds and honey, but very often walnuts, raisins, almonds and other dry fruits are added. It’s a lovely sweet dish that can give you a break from other quite heavy dishes.

There couldn’t be a Christmas Eve dinner without a big portion of a Christmas cheesecake or a poppy seed cake. As with many other dishes on this list, every family has its own special recipe, but you can be sure one thing. This is going to be one epic cake.

Last on the list is Christmas compote, a non-alcoholic drink made of dry fruits (plums, apricots, and apples) cooked in a water with sugar. It’s served cold and helps with digestion.

The cold winter evenings are coming – these are the best Polish drinks to stay warm

Winter is coming and anyone who experienced winter in Poland knows that this is serious. You need to be prepared for the thermal shock and the short, dark days that lay ahead of you. There are a few things that can make this time of year more enjoyable but nothing works better than a good, Polish winter drink. Here is the list of the best beverages that you need to try this winter.

Mulled beer – grzaniec

King of Polish autumn drinks comes as a surprise to foreigners who are accustomed to the idea of mulled wine but not yet heard of mulled beer. If you are one of those people that never heard of mulled beer before, try to forget wine (at least once) and trust the true Polish connoisseurs by supping on grzaniec this autumn season. It is hot, spicy and sweet, with undertones of Christmas spices (cloves and cinnamon) which makes it the perfect drink to enjoy during the cold Polish winter evenings. Some people believe in the healing properties of mulled beer and if you were not yet convinced, this should do the trick.

Mulled wine – grzane wino

Mulled wine

It’s good to be adventurous and to try new things, but sometimes nothing gives more comfort than a classic and familiar drink. Mulled wine is one of them and can be bought in almost every pub, shop or Christmas market across Poland. Similarly to mulled beer, mulled wine brings you this nice warm feeling and smells of autumn holiday. In Poland, you can buy ready spice mixes that can be added to the red wine or even buy ready mulled wine that only has to be heated up. There is no excuse now!

Herbata z prądem

Herbata z prądem literally means tea with electricity or current and thanks to its origins is also referred to as mountain tea. It is a simple drink made of tea and alcohol with an optional addition of sugar and lemon. The most popular version is made of rum but any liqueur or vodka will do. It’s the perfect drink after a day of hiking or skiing or to be used as a medicine if you are feeling ill. Hey, alcohol kills bacteria so why not try it?

Nalewka – Polish liqueur

Nalewka, Polish liqueur made with spices, herbs and fruits usually contains 40-45% of alcohol but according to many Polish people, nalewka tastes much better than vodka. The Old Polish tradition claims that medium-dry and semi-sweet fruit liqueurs nalewka should be served with meat dishes, while sweet nalewka is a dessert alcohol, but Poles also drink it neat so your choices are endless. Interestingly nalewka is one of those drinks that can be made at home and a lot of people prepare it themselves to have something nice to look forward to for when winter comes in and the days become shorter and darker.

Hot chocolate

Not everyone likes (wants to or can) to drink alcohol so there has to be at least one non-alcoholic drink on this list (yes, this is how fair we are!). Hot chocolate is probably one of the most favourite hot drinks enjoyed by Poles in cafes (of course next to coffee and tea). Nowadays there are many specialised places that serve the real thing – thick, smooth and incredibly delicious hot chocolates served with whipped cream and additional spices. Polish people can be adventures too, so don’t be surprised to see hot chocolate with chilli on the autumn menu.