01 December 2010

A Child's School Project About Christmas Traditions

My oldest came home today with a project to do together for her school.  She was given a star and instructions to write on it what Christmas traditions we celebrate and then to decorate it.  It left me thinking about our traditions.  There really wasn't as much room on it as we could have used so here is what she decided we should write:

"We decorate our tree and celebrate Wigilia and when we see the first star that night, we get pyjamas from Santa Claus to wear.  We have a feast with lots of polish food.  We call our family in Poland."

Wigilia is celebrated the night before Christmas, pronounced "Vee-GEEL-eya" and literally meaning "Vigil".  Polish families set out straw under the tablecloth, which itself is white to represent the pure veil of Mary, which according to legend is what she used to swaddle newborn baby Jesus with.  The youngest child is sent out to look for the first star, which is the start of the celebration. 

Some Poles also go to Midnight Mass, which I always loved to do because the ceremony is so beautiful and the music is special only for that night.

One very special tradition is the sharing and breaking of the oplatek.  It is a very thin wafer with scenes of Jesus's birth inpressed on it.  Family members each walk around with their oplatek and allow one another to break pieces off of it to eat together as they say a blessing and kiss each other on the cheeks.  This tradition is also a reminder to forgive one another for the past year.  My family in Poland always sent us one and I always thought of it as a way to have them close to us on this special holiday, even though we are many miles apart.

There are many other Polish Christmas traditions.  As it is only the beginning of Advent, we have plenty of time to share them.  What traditions do your family celebrate during the Christmas season?

Wigilia: A tale about a Polish-American family on Christmas Eve

Polska Wigilia


Elizabeth said...

I had a Polish babysitter who brought oplatek for Christmas a couple of years ago. Although I have relatives in Poland, my great-grandparents are the ones who came over. I have a lot of Polish influence from my grandparents (who were even born in the US but would visit Poland) in my memories, but sadly, there isn't really any way for me to really share traditions from "The Old Country". Kind of interesting how you get diluted, I'm 1/2 Polish and my kids 1/4.

Unknown said...

I think that Polish or American or any nationality, is also a state of mind, really. We are all mixed already through centuries of human history. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you celebrate your heritage, whatever it is, so that you remember your ancestors, and so that your children remember you when you pass... :)