By Derek Milton, student of Polish, School of Slavonic & East European Studies, UCL and Polish Cultural Institute, London), 2003
Notes

1.) Sw. is short for the noun swiety or swieta (male and female saint) or for the adjective swiety, swieta and swieto (holy, saintly, sacred) and declined forms thereof such as swietego and swietych. It is not short for swieto, swieta when it means holiday(s), which is written in full and may be translated as “day”.

2.) Saints’ days and other days in the church calendar were often the occasion for feasts or festivals or celebrations of some kind or public holidays. By no means all saints’ days or similar days are included in the calendar, e.g. in the last week of December alone there is Dzien sw. Jana (St. John the Evangelist’s Day), 27 December, when blessed wine is drunk in church to commemorate the fact that St. John was unharmed after drinking a cup of poisoned wine he had earlier blessed, and also the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 December, in remembrance of Herod’s massacre of infants in Bethlehem. Another saint’s day not included is Dzien sw. Brygidy (St. Bridget’s Day), named after the saint who prophesied the victory of Poland and Lithuania over the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald, 1410. Some festivals have been celebrated since the coming of Christianity to Poland in 966, others are not so long established, e.g. Boze Cialo (Corpus Christi) dates back to 1320.

3.) The dates shown in brackets in the calendar are those on which certain religious festivals occur in 2003. The dates of these festivals vary from year to year (swieto ruchome, movable feast). The timing of Easter is critical to the religious calendar. It can fall between 22 March and 25 April. This means that other festivals are also movable, but the intervals between them are fixed. Thus, Easter Sunday (Niedziela Wielkanocna) is followed 5 weeks later by Rogation Sunday (Dni Krzyzowe, Rogation Days) and 7 weeks later by Pentecost or Whit Sunday (Zeslanie Ducha Swietego). Ascension Day (Wniebowstapienie) is 4 days after Rogation Sunday. Corpus Christi (Boze Cialo), which falls on a Thursday in June, is 11 days after Pentecost. Advent (Adwent) is the fourth Sunday before Christmas and Candlemas Day (Dzien Matki Boskiej) 40 days after Christmas. Some saints’ days may also be moved if they clash with major religious festivals, e.g. St. George’s Day in the case of Easter.

4.) Some religious festivals also serve to commemorate, or coincide with, secular events, e.g. 3 May and 11 November.

5.) A number of the customs associated with the Church year have fallen into abeyance. If they survive, they are, by their nature, more likely to be kept up in rural areas. Some such as ‘Dousing’ or ‘Drenching Monday’ (Lany Poniedzialek) and the Midsummer Night’s Eve celebrations (swietojanski) date back to pagan times, and have survived despite opposition from the Church.

6.) Some saints’ days or other days are not recognised in all parts of Poland, e.g. Dzien sw. Marcina (11 November) is limited to Wielkopolska.

7.) Certain secular events celebrated during one period of history have not necessarily been celebrated in a subsequent period. This was particularly so in the 20th century and, above all, during the PRL (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa, People’s Republic of Poland). Various ‘Days’ were celebrated then such as Dzien Gornika (Miners’ Day), Dzien Hutnika (Steelworkers’ Day), Dzien Metalurga (Metalworkers’ Day), Dzien Lesnika (Foresters’ Day), Dzien Pracownika Sluzby Zdrowia (Health Service Workers’ Day), Dzien Spoldzielczosci (Day of the Co-operative Movement) and Dzien Oswiaty, Ksiazki i Prasy (Day of Education, Books and the Press). These various days, together with Dzien Zwyciestwa (Victory Day), Swieto Pracy (Labour Day), Swieto Odzyskania Niepodleglosci (Recovery of Independence Day) and Dziadek Mroz (Grandfather Frost) were supposed to displace religious festivals and figures, but, in practice, they did not do so. Similarly, in the early days of the PRL, the authorities tried, but failed, to stop the Corpus Christi Day processions, on the grounds that they interfered with traffic. Some of the “Days” such as Dzien Dziecka, Dzien Matki, Dzien Ojca, Dzien Babci and Dzien Dziadka have survived the return to the Polska Rzeczpospolita, Republic of Poland, some other customs and anniversaries have regained popularity and others are being celebrated for the first time, e.g. St. Valentine’s Day (Dzien sw. Walentego).

8.) May is the month for children to take First Communion (Pierwsza Komunia sw.), for evening devotions (‘May Devotions’) to the Virgin Mary (Nabozenstwo Majowe) and for end-of-the-year school examinations (matury), and for lovers. The month ends with the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 31 May.

9.) June is the month when primary and secondary schools finish for the year and summer holidays begin.

10.) August is the month for dozynki (harvest festivals) and swieto plonow (open wreath of rye stalks decorated with flowers, hazelnuts, cranberries and ribbons) and blessed in church as a symbol of the harvest to come. A bundle of wheat stalks (rownianka) is also made and decorated. The feast of the Holy Virgin of Sowing is observed in farming areas, particularly in the south east of the country.

11.) October is the month for the celebration of the Rosary (rozaniec). As in May, the rosary is said in churches, chapels and private homes.

12.) December is best known for Wigilia. It is the day before Christ’s birth and takes the form of an evening meal. Traditionally, it began when the first star (gwiazdka) was seen, a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem, which illuminated the place where the birth of Christ (Narodzenie Chrystusa or Narodzenie Panskiego) took place and which showed the shepherds and the Medrcy Wschodu (Three Wise Men or Magi from the East) the way there. The table, which was laid before the first star appeared, was set for an even number of family and guests, an odd number of guests would have meant that someone would not live until the next Wigilia. If necessary, someone, be it an honoured guest or a wandering beggar, was invited to make up the number (alternatively, one empty place was left in case the Holy Spirit or a departed ancestor or a stranger appeared). After the family had knelt on the floor and prayed together, the parish priest, who went from house to house in the village, blessed the oplatek (Host wafer) and shared it out among those present as a sign of unity and forgiveness. Today, the family breaks the oplatek with one another, exchanging good wishes for the next year.

The table is covered either with sloma (straw) or siano (hay), in remembrance of the stable at Bethlehem, and then with a white tablecloth. An uneven number of dishes was served, 7 in the family of a peasant, 9 in that of a member of the gentry, 11 in that of a magnate or even 13, the last representing the number that sat down at the Last Supper (an even number of dishes would have meant that the family had no hope of acquiring new riches in the year ahead). Since Advent is a time of fasting the Wigilia meal does not include mieso (meat), tluszcz zwierzecy (animal fat), nabial (dairy products) or slodycze (sweets). It is therefore similar to a meal during Lent (wieczerza postna). Dishes vary from region to region. Kutia (wheat that was soaked is cooked and sweetened with honey and mashed poppy seeds, raisins and nuts were added) is popular, but often the centre piece of the meal is a kolacz (a round, braided bread). Other dishes include barszcz (beet soup), pierogi (dumplings stuffed with mushrooms or cabbage), uszka z grzybami (wild mushroom ravioli), lazanki (noodles with honey and poppy seed), soczewica (lentils), cabbage (sauerkraut) with peas, beans, poppy seed cake, fresh apples, dried and candied fruit, oranges and nuts. Fish, typically sledzie (herring), in various forms, or carp is eaten. The food might also be shared with domestic animals: the oplatek with the cows and sheep; hay from under the tablecloth with the horses; and crumbs with the chickens.

see a fuller list of Wigilia dishes

After supper, family and guests stand up together from the table (it was believed that if one person did so on their own he or she would die before the next Wigilia). They gather together to sing carols (koledy), to tell stories and to exchange gifts left by an angel (aniolek) or the gwiazdka under the Christmas tree (choinka), which is decorated with candles, nuts, apples, painted egg shells, coloured paper and straw, some in the shape of pajaki (spiders), as well as pierniki (gingerbread figures). Smoke from the candles was believed to foretell the future. In earlier times, the upper two or three feet of a pine (Christmas) tree was cut off, decorated with Christmas ornaments and hung upside down from the ceiling. Known as a podlaznik, it resembled a modern hanging mobile. As midnight approaches animals are said to speak with human voices and water in the well to turn into wine. The proceedings culminate at midnight with the Mass of the Shepherd (Pasterka), so named because the shepherds were the first to greet the newborn Christ. On the way to and from Mass the number of stars is observed, the more there are the more sheaves of grain would be harvested in the following year.


Dni Swiateczne (Public Holidays)

Nowy Rok
New Year’s Day
1 January

Poniedzialek Wielkanocny
Easter Monday
movable

Swieto Pracy
Labour Day
1 May

Dzien Uchwalenia Konstytucji
Constitution Day
3 May

Boze Cialo
Corpus Christi
movable

Wniebowziecie Matki Boskiej
Assumption of the Virgin Mary
15 August

Wszystkich Swietych
All Souls’ Day
1 November

Swieto Niepodleglosci
Independence Day
11 November

Boze Narodzenie
Christmas
25-26 December

Sources

(1) Handouts (ulotki) supplied by Dr Dorota Holowiak, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, UCL, London.

(2) “Kalendarz Polski: Historia i Obyczaje”, Barbara Ogrodowska, Elzbieta Piskarz-Branekova and Magdalena Slusarska, Stowarzyszenie Wspolnota Polska, Warszawa, 1997.

(3) Kultura Polska: Silva Rerum”, published by Szkola Kultury Polskiej Uniwersytetu Slaskiego, Katowice, 2002.

(4) “Polska”, Przewodniki Wiedzy i Zycia, Warszawa, 2002, particularly pp. 32-35, edited by Teresa Czerniewicz-Umer and Malgorzata Omilanowska, Bialostockie Zaklady Graficzne S.A.

(5) “Kalendarzyk Kombatanta 2003”, published by Wydawca Stowarzyszenie Polskich Kombatantow, London, 2002.

(6) Mgr. Zdzislaw Peszkowski, “The Polish Year: Reflections on Polish Culture, Religious and Folk Observances”, Orchard Lake Schools, Michigan, US, c. 1966.

(7) “Wielki Slownik”, Jan Stanislawski, Panstwowe Wydawnictwo, Warsaw, 1979 and other dictionaries.

(8 ) “Poland: The Rough Guide”, Rough Guides Limited, London, 1979, pp. 47-49.

(9) “Kurs Jezyka Polskiego”, Linguaphone Institute Limited, 1992, lesson 23, pp. 112-115.

(10) “Uczmy sie Polskiego”, Polska Fundacja Upowszechniania Nauki, Warsaw, 1996, lesson 8, pp. 197-226.

Potrawy Wigilijne (Wigilia Dishes)

Przystawki – zimne potrawy
(Hors-d’oeuvre/Starters – Cold dishes)

Sledzie po polsku
Herring, Polish-style
Sledzie marynowane
Pickled herring
Salatka sledziowa
Herring salad
Szczupak faszerowany
Stuffed pike
Pieczywo domowe
Homemade bread
Bulka domowa
Bread roll
Buleczki do ryby
Fish-shaped rolls

Zupy (Soups)

Barszcz wigilny, postny, czerwony
Beet soup
Zupa grzybowa
Wild mushroom soup
Zupa rybna
Fish soup
Uszka do barszczu
Beetroot soup with ravioli
Pierozki krucho-drozdzowe z grzybami i kapusta
Small yeast-made ravioli with wild mushrooms and cabbage

Dania gorace z warzyw i grzybow
(Hot dishes with vegetables and mushrooms)

Pierogi z kapusta
Cabbage ravioli
Lazanki z kapusta
Cabbage noodles
Kapusta z grzybami
Cabbage with wild mushrooms
Kapusta z grochem
Cabbage with peas
Kotlety grzybowe
Chops in mushroom sauce
Kluski z makiem
Flour dumplings

Gorace dania rybne (Hot fish dishes)

Ryba smazona
Fried or sauteed fish
Karp po polsku w szarym sosie
Carp Polish-style in sweetish (grey
onion) sauce

Desery (Desserts)

Kutia
Soaked wheat, cooked and sweetened with honey
Mak z lamancami
Poppy seed waffles
Strucla makowa
Poppy seed twists
Kruche ciasteczka
Shortcake
Piernik swiateczny
Honeyed gingerbread or honey cake
Pierniczki “caluski”
Small honey cakes or gingerbread
“Makowki”
Poppy seed heads
“Moczka” slaska
Silesian honey cake or gingerbread
Kompot
Compote, stewed fruit



1 January
Swieto Nowego Roku (New Year’s Day). Public holiday.

Uroczystosc Najswietszej Bogurodzicy Marii (Ceremony of the Most Blessed Mary, Mother of God).

3 January
Trzeci Rozbior Polski (Third Partition of Poland, 1795).
6 January
Dzien Epifanii (Epiphany) or Swieto Trzech Kroli or Wieczor Trzech Kroli (Twelfth Night) or Swieta Objawienia Boga (Revelation of the Lord). The initials of the Trzej Krolowie (Three Kings) – Kacper, Melchior and Baltazar, (K, M and B) and the number of the current year are marked in blessed chalk on the doors of houses. The parish priest visits each family and blesses their home up to Candlemas Day. Epiphany was traditionally the start of Karnawal (Carnival), which ran until Ash Wednesday and was celebrated with masked balls, banquets and sleigh rides, dancing and frolicking but now more modestly. Skiing and ski-jumping also start around the same time. The pre-Lenten period was also a time for weddings.
21 January
Dzien Babci (Grandmother’s Day).
22 January
Wybuch Powstania Styczniowego (start of the January 1863 Polish Uprising).
Dzien Dziadka (Grandfather's Day)
23 January
Drugi Rozbior Polski (Second Partition of Poland, 1793).
2 February
Dzien Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej (Candlemas Day), which commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary (Najswietsza Maria Panna) or Mother of God (Matka Boska). Christmas trees and decorations are taken down, creches are removed from churches and carols come to an end. Candles lit from the flaming blessed candles during evening mass are carried home from church (gromnica, a candle traditionally lit during storms, also serves to light the way for a departing soul and to ward off evil spirits).
3 February
Dzien sw. Blazeja (St Blaise’s Day). Priests consecrate apples, wax rings and candles (blazejki).
5 February
Dzien sw. Agaty (St Agatha’s Day). Priests consecrate salt as a protection against fire.
14 February
Dzien sw. Walentego (St Valentine’s Day), originating from the West. Named after Bishop Valentine, a 3rd century Christian martyr, who, before being executed, wrote a letter to the daughter of one of his prison guards, who had been loyal to him, and signed himself “Your Valentine”. Subsequently, it became a day for choosing a partner or for lovers to show their affection for one another by, e.g., sending walentynki (valentines/cards).
27 February
movable
Tlusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday), the last Thursday before Lent, when paczki (doughnuts) and faworki or chrusty (small, thin crispy biscuits in the shape of folded ribbons) are eaten.
4 March
movable
Ostatni Dzien Karnawalu (Last Day of Carnival) or Ostatki or Tlusty Wtorek (Shrove Tuesday), when paczki and faworki may also be eaten.
Dzien sw. Kazimierza (St Casimir’s Day). In accordance with a festival (kaziuki) held in the past in Wilno, ‘Wilno Palms’ (rings of colourful flowers wrapped in bands around a stick), obwarzanki (pretzels) and gingerbread hearts are distributed.
5 March
movable
Popielec or Sroda Popielcowa (Ash Wednesday), first day of Wielki Post (literally, Great Fast or Lent). Special religious observations such as Gorzkie Zale (Bitter Lamentations), a 17th century folk composition sung in church, when a soul talks to Christ and laments his bitter sufferings, were customary during Lent. The priest traces a cross of ashes on foreheads as a sign of penance in preparation for the Death and Resurrection of Christ. During the next 40 days, merry-making, including weddings, together with all animal fats such as butter, eggs and oil, are meant to be avoided. Between Shrovetide and the Fourth Sunday of Lent, particularly in Galicia and Silesia, a straw puppet called marzanna, named after the goddess of winter, used to be drowned in a river or a lake to mark the rebirth of spring.
8 March
Miedzynarodowy Dzien Kobiet (International Women’s Day), when women may be given carnations.
19 March
Dzien sw. Jozefa (St Joseph’s Day). Patron saint of aviators, owing to his reputed powers of levitation, the 400th anniversary of his birth falls in 2003. Time of celebration because of the popularity of the name Joseph, notwithstanding that the anniversary falls in the middle of Lent. Weddings are permitted on this day, which was also called sledziowka (herring day) since fish could be consumed.
21 March
Poczatek wiosny (beginning of Spring), traditionally a day when pupils played truant from school.
1 April
“Prima Aprilis” (April Fools’ Day). A day of celebrations to mark the rejuvenation of nature after winter.
4 April
Bitwa pod Raclawicami (Kosciuszko’s victory over the Russians at the Battle of Raclawice, 1794).
13 April
movable
Niedziela Palmowa (Palm Sunday), the last Sunday in Lent (ostatnia niedziela Wielkiego Postu) and known also as kwietnia (flower) or wierzbowa (weeping willow), it marks the entry of Christ into Jerusalem and the start of Wielki Tydzien (Holy Week). Palmy Wielkanocne (Easter Palms), either ‘Wilno palms’ or pussy willows, are blessed in church, taken home and placed behind a crucifix or holy images. They could also be carried in procession, the most famous procession being that at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, near Krakow, inaugurating a week of mystery plays re-enacting Christ’s Passion (misterium pasyjne w Kawalarii Zebrzydowskiej). Two kinds of Easter eggs are prepared: pisanki wielkanocne (the design is put onto the egg with a hot stylus dipped in wax, after which the egg is plunged into successive layers of dye to produce a rich array of folk motifs) and kraszanki wielkanocne (the egg is dyed a single colour, often red). The pisanki are kept as talismen whereas the kraszanki are eaten.
16 April
movable
Wielka Sroda (Holy Wednesday).
17 April
movable
Wielki Czwartek (Maundy Thursday), first day of Wielkanoc (Easter) or Pascha (Passover) from an earlier Jewish festival. In many rural areas, an effigy of Judas Iscariot is hanged, dragged outside the village, flogged and burned or thrown into a river (similar to the marzanna custom). Church leaders wash the feet of twelve old men, in the same way as Christ washed the feet of his 12 apostles. Evening mass is held to celebrate the Ostatnia Wieczerza (Last Supper).
18 April
movable
Wielki Piatek (Good Friday), second day of Easter and a day of strict fasting and mourning to mark the Crucifixion of Christ. Visits take place to imitations of the Grob Swiety (Holy Sepulchre), Grob Panski (Lord’s Sepulchre) or Grob Chrystusa (Christ’s Sepulchre), where prayers are said, an all night vigil is kept and Bitter Lamentations are sung. The sepulchres may be permanent structures, as in Krakow and Wambierzyce, in Silesia, or temporary ones such as in Warsaw. In some places, notably Rzeszow, this is combined with a celebration of King Jan Sobieski’s victory at Vienna in 1683, with “Turks” placed in charge of the tomb.
19 April
movable
Wielka Sobota (Easter Saturday), third day of Easter and the time for swiecenie jadla (blessing of the food). Easter baskets may include kolacz (special bread), baby (plain cake made with yeast), mazurki (flat fancy cakes), kruche ciasteczka (crisp, small cakes), baranki (lamb shapes made of butter and sugar), eggs (symbols of life, reproduction, love and strength), sausage, ham, cheese, horseradish, salt and pepper. The basket is decorated with a periwinkle and covered with a napkin embroidered with flowers depicting a regional motif. It is then taken to church to be blessed (swiecone) and sprinkled with holy water (woda swiecona). Vigil services and solemn resurrection masses are held.
Wybuch Powstania w Getcie Warszawskim (start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 1943).
20 April
movable
Niedziela Wielkanocna (Easter Day or Easter Sunday), fourth day of Easter. A day of solemn masses and Church processions to mark the Resurrection (Rezurekcja). The food blessed the previous day (swieconka) is then eaten.
21April
movable
Poniedzialek Wielkanocny (Easter Monday), fifth day of Easter. More processions. The remains of Easter celebrations are symbolically shared at the graves of relatives. It is customary to meet relatives and friends. Public holiday.
Dziady Wiosenne (Spring Fore-fathers).
Lany Poniedzialek or Poniedzialek Oblewany (‘Dousing’ or ‘Drenching Monday’), marked by the custom of smigus-dyngus. As in pagan times, young women are doused with water, a fertility symbol, and ‘switched’ (smigus) with willow branches and mothers give their children gifts to take to other houses to keep their homes free of trouble (dyngus - ransom).
23 April Dzien Ojca (Father’s Day)
Dzien sw. Jerzego (St George’s Day). Patron saint of farmers and cattle breeders, the 1700th anniversary of his death falls in 2003. Mass is offered for a successful harvest. Many churches are named after St. George.
1 May Swieto Pierwszomajowe (May Day) or Swieto Pracy (Labour Day). Celebrated as the start of summer with flowers, picnics (majowki), dancing around the maypole and other outdoor activities. Between Lent and Whitsuntide a gaj or gaik zielony (green may tree or a branch of such a tree), decorated with flowers and ribbons, might be carried from house to house to ensure fertility and good fortune. Public holiday.
3 May Uroczystosc Najswietszej Marii Panny - Krolowej Polski (Ceremony of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland) which commemorates both the Proclamation of the Virgin Mary as Queen of Poland during the reign of King Jan Kazimierz (1648-68) and the Millenial Act of Submission of the Polish nation to the Virgin Mary, approved by Pope John XXIII, on 3 May 1966, the 1000th anniversary of the coming of Christianity to Poland. Celebrations are held, particularly at Jasna Gora (Bright Mountain), Czestochowa, a national shrine since the 14th century and, effectively, Poland’s religious capital.
Swieto Konstytucji (Constitution Day), which commemorates the adoption of Poland’s first liberal Constitution of 3 May 1791. Poland’s National Day and a public holiday.
8 May Dzien sw. Stanislawa (St Stanislaus’ Day). Bishop and martyr, after whom many boys are named, the 750th anniversary of his canonisation falls in 2003. His relics, which rest in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, are paraded through the city on this day.
9 May Dzien Zwyciestwa (Victory Day), marking the end of the Second World War.
18 May Zdobycie Monte Cassino (Capture of Monte Cassino by Polish forces during the Second World War, 1944).
26 May Dzien Matki (Mother’s Day)
1 June Dzien Dziecka (Children’s Day). Special activities for children are organised throughout Poland.
8 June
movable
Zeslanie Ducha Swietego (Descent of the Holy Ghost or Pentecost or Whit Sunday)
Zielone Swiatki or Zielone Swieta (Green Holidays). Homes, gates, fences and streets are decorated with green branches. Fields are blessed, in anticipation of the harvest. Rushes are traditionally laid out on the floor of the house. In the Krakow region bonfires are lit on hilltops.
9 June
movable
Poniedzialek Zielonych Swiat (Whit Monday)
15 June Dzien Ojca (Father’s Day)
19 June
movable
Boze Cialo (Corpus Christi) or Uroczystosc Przenajswietszego Sakramentu (Ceremony of the Most Blessed Sacrament). The time for procesja w Swieto Bozego Ciala (Corpus Christi Day processions), including floral displays, crosses, church banners, holy statues and icons, bell-ringing altar boys and children in Holy Communion dress throwing flowers before the Sacrament, carried by the priest under a canopy. Public holiday.
24 June Dzien sw. Jana Chrzciciela (St John the Baptist’s Day) or Przesilenie letnie (summer solstice) or Noc Swietojanska (Midsummer Night’s Eve). Known as swietojanski (St. John’s Day festivities) or kupala (popular festivities), it is celebrated, particularly in Warsaw, Krakow and Poznan, with blazing bonfires and wreaths (wianki), traditionally made of wild thyme (macierzanka) and lighted candles, which are then floated on rivers and lakes to the singing of ancient ritual songs reminiscent of the pagan Sabbath festival (sobotka – sometimes the day is known as sobotka swietojanska). Boating, dancing and fireworks are also common.
26 June Dni Krakowa (Krakow Days), when the story of the Tartar siege of the city is re-enacted.
29 June Dzien sw. Piotra i Pawla (St Peter’s and St Paul’s Day)
26 July Dzien sw. Anny (St Ann’s Day). St Ann, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the patron saint for the month of July. This is the occasion for the main annual pilgrimage to Gora Swietej Anny (St Ann’s Mountain) in Silesia.
1 August Wybuch Powstania w Warszawie (start of the Warsaw Uprising, 1944)
5 August Pierwszy Rozbior Polski (First Partition of Poland, 1772).
15 August Swieto Wniebowziecia (Feast of the Assumption Day). Pilgrimages converge on Jasna Gora, the biggest, numbering thousands, is usually from Warsaw. In the Krakow region, pilgrims make their way to the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, where the funeral of Mary the Mother of God (Bogurodzica), is re-enacted. Likewise, a mystery play is re-enacted near Przemysl. It is customary for harvest wreaths (stalks of grain, flowers and medicinal herbs) to be blessed in church and the day is also therefore known as Swieto Matki Boskiej Zielnej (Day of Our Lady of the Herbs). Public holiday.
Dzien Zolnierza (Soldier’s Day), which marks Zwyciestwo w Bitwie Warszawskiej (Pilsudski’s victory over the Russians at the Battle of Warsaw, 1920 - the “miracle over the Vistula”).
26 August Matki Boskiej Czestochowskiej (Blessed Virgin Mary of Czestochowa) or Czarnej Madonny (Black Madonna). This was also the occasion for the renewal of the National Vows of 1956, which, in turn, were a renewal of King Jan Kazimierz’ vows of 1656.
1 September Napad Niemiec na Polske or Agresja niemiecka (German attack on Poland, 1939)

Poczatek roku szkolnego (beginning of school year)

17 September Najazd Sowietow na Polske (Soviet invasion of Poland, 1939)
1 October Poczatek roku akademickiego (beginning of academic year)
14 October Dzien Nauczyciela (Teacher’s Day)
20 October Dzien sw. Jana Kantego (St. John Cantius’ Day), a professor at the Krakow Academy and the patron saint of students.
31 October Wigilia Wszystkich Swietych (All Saints’ Eve), also known nowadays as Hallowe’en (All Hallow’s Eve).
1 November Wszystkich Swietych (All Saints’ Day). The day for honouring all saints who do not have their own feast days during the year and for remembering Poles who died in the service of the country, including the victims of the Katyn Massacre (1940) and of the Warsaw Uprising (1944), as well as their relatives and persons unknown. A special service takes place at the Grob Nieznanego Zolnierza (Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) in Warsaw. Flowers, wreaths and candles are placed on tombstones. Public holiday.
2 November Dzien Zaduszny or Zaduszki (All Souls’ Day) or Dzien Zmarlych (Day of the Dead). Similar to All Saints’ Day, but with the emphasis on families visiting the graves of relatives and friends, often at a great distance, to place flowers, usually chrysanthemums, on them and to light candles. It was customary to leave food at gravesides for any returning souls of departed ancestors. Registers of the dead (wypominki) are read in church.
11 November Dzien Niepodleglosci (Independence Day), which commemorates the regaining of Independence in 1918. Public holiday. Swieto Odzyskania Niepodleglosci (Recovery of Independence Day) used to be celebrated on 22 July to mark the formation, on that day in 1944, of the Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego (Polish Committee for National Liberation), which called for national liberation, but that day is now a normal working day.
Dzien sw. Marcina (St. Martin’s Day). Traditional day for eating roast goose.
29 November Wybuch Powstania Listopadowego (start of the November 1830 Polish Uprising).
30 November Dzien sw. Andrzeja (St Andrew’s Day) or Andrzejki. Occasion for young people, especially young women looking for husbands, to tell fortunes and cast horoscopes, often from the shapes resulting from pouring beeswax or lead on paper, a superstitious practice accompanied by dancing. Other methods of fortune telling included counting the posts in a fence, interpreting the behaviour of animals and reading shadows on the wall.
30 November movable Niedziela Adwentu (First Sunday in Advent and the beginning of the Church year). Advent, which lasts four weeks, is spent quietly, awaiting the arrival of Christ, and fasting (no weddings or boisterous dancing are allowed). Special early morning masses (known as Roraty, “drop the dew of heaven”) are held and symbolic candles lit. Children may be given special Advent calendars.
4 December Dzien sw. Barbary (St Barbara’s Day) or Barborka. An exception, like Andrzejki, to the rest of Advent, this is the traditional holiday for miners, for whom St Barbara is the patron saint. Mines and foundries are closed, galas, pageants and dancing take place and special masses are held for the safety of miners.
6 December Dzien sw. Mikolaja (St Nicholas’ Day). St Nicholas, the patron saint of travellers and sailors and venerated in south west Poland as the protector of flocks from wolves during winter, goes from house to house giving presents of toys to good children and twigs to bad (or leaves presents under pillows or in shoes left out for the purpose). The time from St Nicholas Day to Christmas Day is known as przedswiecie (pre-holiday season), when preparations are made for the Christmas festivities: cribs to put in churches and Christmas ornaments such as dolls, paper chains and snow made from cotton to put on the Christmas tree.
24 December Wigilia Bozego Narodzenia or Wieczor Wigilijny or Wieczerza Wigilia or simply Wigilia (Christmas Eve or the Christmas Eve feast), also known as Gwiazdka (little star) – see a list of Vigilia dishes.
25 December Boze Narodzenie (Christmas) or Pierwszy Dzien Bozego Narodzenia (First day of Christmas). Traditionally, the day is spent at home, quietly within the family, and no menial work is done. Dishes eaten include pork, sausages or bigos (hunter’s stew), cheesecake (sernik) and fruit cake. By tradition, the beginning of gody, a period of 12 days and nights when the weather was believed to foretell the weather for the corresponding months of the coming year. Public holiday.
26 December Dzien sw. Szczepana (St Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day) or Drugi Dzien Bozego Narodzenia (Second day of Christmas). Traditionally, this is the day for visiting family and friends and exchanging good wishes; for farm labourers showering their priest and each other with handfuls of grain, peas or beans for good luck, in memory of St Stephen, the first martyr, who was stoned to death; for negotiating new labour agreements for the coming year; and for singing carols (koledowanie), which continue until Candlemas Day. This may be accompanied by a szopka kolednicza (portable crib carried from house to house and village to village) or herody (live plays re-enacting the birth of Christ during the rule of King Herod). The performers wear costumes and masks (maska kolednicza) depicting, among others, the Holy Family, the Three Wise Men (Medrcy Wschodu) and creatures of the forest, such as the bison and the wild ox (turon). The Gwiazdor (star man) carries the gwiazda kolednicza (carolling star). More theatrical nativity plays (jaselka), originally in churches, but later in schools and public halls, may also be performed. Public holiday.
31 December Dzien sw. Sylwestra (New Year’s Eve), which commemorates the surprise of Christians when, at the end of the First Millenium AD, the expected end of the world did not materialise and, instead, a new Pope, Sylvester II, who took the name of a 4th century Pope, appeared, bathed in torchlight, on the balcony of the Lateran Palace in Rome, and blessed the Eternal City and the rest of the world, ushering in a new millenium. The celebrations that followed were the origin of the current New Year celebrations. Champagne is drunk at midnight and it is a time for formal balls, particularly in Warsaw, and for practical jokes in country areas of southern Poland. Others greet the New Year by attending midnight mass.
top