12 December 2010

My Favorite Holiday Memories

With Wigilia and Christmas coming, it is time to start planning the celebrations with my family, particularly my children. As any mother does, I draw upon memories of my fondest holidays so that I can enrich my children's holidays as well. In those memories are also family traditions.

We celebrated Wigilia when I was a child and I want to do the same for my children. Wigilia is so special to Poles, it sums up their Christmas celebrations.

I actually wrote details about how it is celebrated in a prior post: http://polishmamaontheprairie.blogspot.com/2010/12/childs-school-project-leaves-me.html

Wigilia for our family always meant the dimming of the lights, lighting of candles, the playing of koledy, special tablecloth on hay, and delicious foods. Church was an important part of the evening as well.

I still can remember how I always thought the lyrics of certain songs were so beautiful. Polish Christmas Carols are Koledy (ko-LEN-dy with the "y" as in Symphony) and many you may have heard of. Some of my personal favorites are:

  • Lulajze, Jezuniu... (In fact, this song means much much more to me now as a mother, because I can fully grasp these beautiful simple lyrics)
  • W Zlobie Lezy Bóg sie rodzi (Which is considered a quintessential Koleda)
  • Medrcy swiata
  • Dzisiaj w Betleem
  • Jezus Malusienki
I have noticed that polish koledy tend to have the theme of Christ's birth in the manger. From research, I have learned that many were written by the general polish populace, versus a famous composer or priest, during the 14th through 17th centuries and the manger scene was apparently very moving to the Polish spirit.

We also would cut out doves, snowflakes and other shapes to decorate the tree and windows with. This tradition of paper cutting or Wycinanki (pronounced vi-chi-NAN-key) is very popular in Poland and is a very inexpensive way to decorate and add a touch of ethnic whimsy to the holiday. You can also do this with your children as a gift to older people, teachers, etc.

The most important decorations we would pull out were the decorations from our first Christmas in America, as we had to leave all of our previous decorations behind when we left Poland. We would pull out the little plastic Christmas tree, which is so tiny by American Christmas standards, decorate it with candies and place a special candle and miniature of Joseph, Mother Mary, and Baby Jesus by the tree. Even when we had more money and bought a larger tree, we still kept those precious decorations and would discuss their significance to our family history and how fortunate we were. I now have those items and tell their story when I pull them out with my children. Because, after all, Christmas is a time of family and religious stories.

Christmas day was filled with the opening of presents, staying in pajamas all day, and my very hard working father actually relaxing for once. I remember seeing my parents kissing in the kitchen and exchanging little presents together in special moments that married couples with children always relish, that quiet moment together just smiling at each other. I also remember my mother giving us cookies that she had made herself, which were less sweet than the typical grocery store cookie, but so delicious.

And that important phone call to our family in Poland, quickly spoken wishes of "Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia" (literally meaning Joyous Holy Day of the Lord's Birth) because back then a telephone call to Poland could easily cost a couple of hundred dollars for a half hour.

Whatever your Christmas memories, I hope they inspire you to pass on your family traditions and history to your children like they do me...

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