Fresh snow is squeaking under the boots, frost has painted beautiful patterns on the windows, the first star has appeared on the sky – it is time for a Christmas Eve dinner. The lights on the Christmas tree are pleasantly winking, colourful ornaments hang on the green branches and delicious dishes appear on the table: a carp, a red borscht with the tiny dumplings, a mushroom soup, dumplings with cabbage… But does Christmas mean the same for all of us?
Almost in every matter, also in the matter of Christmas traditions, the saying: „every country has its own customs” proves to be true. Greater Poland has the Starman (a man with a star) its own version of Santa Claus, who brings the presents for the kids, in Masuria in the old days people went for a ceremonial laudes instead of the Midnight Mass. Also the Polish-Slovak border region has its own customs unseen in other regions. Care for sustaining a continuum or at least remembrance of the old customs should be our duty. There are many sources from which we can get information, for one we can talk to our grandparents or parents, who surely remember the Christmas of their youth. Different organizations and associations take care of cultivating the traditions – Carpathia brand, which focuses on the area of the Carpathians, being one of them. What does Christmas Eve in this region look like? Maybe we can tell a little bit about it…
Christmas Eve, 24th of December, the sun hasn’t risen yet, the towns are enshrouded in darkness… Suddenly, knocking at the door breaks the silence. Who could it be at this time? We open the door, and there are several boys standing in the freezing cold – they are called podłaźnicy and they came to remind us about this special day – the birth of Jesus Christ, to give Christmas wishes and to carol. Why there are only boys? According to the tradition, on Christmas Eve, the first person to enter the house should be a man. A woman would bring bad luck for the new year. Their visit at dawn could guarantee wealth and the unexpected visit from an aunt or a female neighbour wouldn’t be so „scary” any more.
Daylong preparations and pottering around the kitchen lead us to the super – which should consist of twelve meatless dishes. On the table we can find an extra place set for an unexpected guest and some hay beneath the tablecloth. It is a remainder of the old tradition of putting a beam of hay in the corner of the room. Before we sit at the table we will share an opłatek – a thin, white, unleavened wafer in a rectangular shape… but is it always shaped this way? In Slovakia the wafer has a round shape and on the table instead of an extra place set and hay we can find a pot with grain and small coins, which will be there until the Three Kings’ Day. Among the Christmas Eve’s dishes in Slovakia we can always find fish with a potato salad, kapustnica, which is a sauerkraut soup and for a dessert „vanoczki” – a currant loaf. Compote from susz, which means dried fruit, is common on both sides of the border region. On Polish side a well-known dish is kutia a mix of dried fruit, wheat, poppy seeds and honey, served either cold or hot.
After the supper it’s time to open the presents, but who brings them? In Lesser Poland and in Subcarpathia a Little Angel visits the good kids and in Slovakia it’s Baby Jesus. The carols are sung in the same way everywhere – loudly and happily praising this special day.
Christmas is a magical time, which should be celebrated with the people we love – family and friends. At the Christmas Eve table it is worth to remember that we can celebrate the customs today thanks to our ancestors. Let the old times last, because the heritage is worth caring for – it is a part of our beautiful and rich history.
CARPATHIA is something more than a territorial brand – it is a way of thinking about the Carpathians. Join us to contribute to the economic quality mark of the Carpathians, which accumulates the best products, attractions and services unique for the Carpathians.
More information about the CARPATHIA brand:
The Association of the Carpathian Euroregion Poland: