Grudzień | December in Poland

17 Feb 2024

The month of Grudzień takes its name from the word grudy, referring to the parts of the soil that are visibly frozen in lumps. And, as the name may suggest, the climate begins to hit sub-zero temperatures at this time of the year.

Aside from the cold weather, the last month of the Polish calendar year is, of course, associated with the holiday season. But more on that in a moment. The 4th day of Grudzień is the feast day of St. Barbara of Nicomedia, the patron saint of 'hard work' and 'protector against sudden death'. In Poland, Saint Barbara's Day is known as Barbórka, and is especially observed in the mining industry, a profession that is equally as arduous as it is hazardous. Celebrations in the form of parades and meetings of an association known as the Karczmy Piwne (ENG: Brewer's Lodgings) take place in the Silesian city of Katowice, which is steeped in mining heritage.
St. Barbara's Day, or Barbórka, is especially observed in the Polish mining industry in and around Katowice.

On the 6th day of Grudzień, Poland gets an early visit from the big man himself. The star of Saint Nicolas Day (PL: Mikołajki) bears less resemblance to the Americanised Coca-Cola mascot known as Santa Claus, and instead takes the form of a dignified saint with a bishop's hat, robes, and a staff. During the previous night, Saint Nicholas (PL: Mikołaj) quietly visits the homes of young children to make his delivery of presents. But instead of filling stockings by the fireplace, he usually leaves them under the pillow or beside the bed.
St. Nicholas AKA Mikołaj at the Christmas Markets in Gdańsk. Photo by Jarmark Bożonarodzeniowy Gdańsk
One of the earliest signs that the holidays have arrived in Poland, the Christmas Markets (PL: Jarmarki Bożonarodzeniowe) are one of the most popular events of both locals and tourists, giving everyone an opportunity to swing by their local market square and soak up the seasonal vibes. Kitschy as it may be, the Christmas Jarmark is quite photogenic, as well as a great opportunity to do some last-minute Christmas shopping and indulge in steaming-hot Polish street food. For those looking for something sweet and fluffy, there's Waffles (PL: Gofry), and Hungarian Chimney Cakes (PL: Kurtosze). As for washing down, a cup of hot mulled wine (PL: Grzane Wino), or a hot spiced beer (PL: Grzane Piwo) should do the trick! Like elsewhere in Poland, your local city market square is likely to be the site of a public ice skating rink, another hit with the seasonal crowd. And it's not just because of the music coming out of the loudspeakers, which is amazing of course!
Oscypki, Polish smoked cheese on the grill at a Christmas Market in Poland.
Next up in Grudzień is the holiday season’s most important celebration, Christmas Eve (PL: Wigilia), the Christian observance awaiting the birth of Jesus Christ. Once the first star appears in the sky, the all-important feasting kicks off. The family shares a Christmas wafer (PL: opłatek), symbolising the body of Christ. After dividing up the opłatek, each member of the family goes to the others in turn, making a blessing for their happiness in the coming year, and then breaking off a piece of the other person’s wafer and eating it.
Sharing an a Christmas wafer, or opłatek, during Christmas Eve Dinner in Poland.

Then we come to the Wigilia feast, consisting of a whopping 12 courses – one for each of Jesus' apostles. The specific 12 dishes prepared vary slightly from family to family, However, some regular appearances are: ...and the all important karp (ENG: carp). Note that fish is particularly symbolic in Catholic feasting, and, in the past, getting your hands on a fresh fish was notoriously problematic in Poland. For this reason, buying a live carp several days before Wigilia and keeping it in the bathtub was common practice. Nowadays, capitalism ensures fresh fish and plenty of availability, so there's no need for a blood bath...literally!
A Communist-era photo of a live Christmas carp in the bathtub awaiting its slaughter! Photo by nowahistoria.interia.pl
After the Wigilia feast, children rush to the Christmas tree to open yet another round of presents that have been magically delivered by a certain 'someone'. In some regions of Poland, this bringer of presents is a Christmas angel, whist in others, he is known as a Gwiazdor, roughly translating as 'Starman'. more devout Polish families will venture out to church and attend midnight mass (ENG: Pasterka), which is also a great chance to admire nativity scenes (PL: Szopki).
Nativity scenes, or szopki, from Kraków are particularly extravagant and are engaged in competition and public display in the city!
The following day of Grudzień is Christmas Day (PL: Boże Narodzenie), which is considerably less-involved than Polish Wigilia, as Christ has now come. Nevertheless, it is a public holiday, allowing for a full day of family time without interruption. A popular pastime on Christmas evening and elsewhere in the holiday season is heading out to see your local set up of Christmas light displays. Starting late in November and lasting into February, holiday lights grace the architecture and parklands of Polish cities. If you're lucky enough to be visiting at this time of the year, try to catch the special illuminations at Warsaw's Wilanów Palace and Oliwa Park in Gdańsk, as well as the old town centres of each major city! In addition to lights, Kraków is famous for its unique twist on nativity scenes (PL: Szopki Krakowskie), which can be seen around the old town during the holiday season, and the annual Ice Sculpture Festival in Poznań is also an event worth checking out.
Light projections at Wilanów Palace in Warsaw are part of the evening illuminations that take place there in winter!
The holiday season is also an opportunity to hear the angelic sounds of Christmas carols (PL: Kolędy). In Styczeń (ENG: January), these are also accompanied by nativity plays (PL: Jasełka), as well as Herody, a morality play that recounts the atrocities of King Herod of Judea, and features an internal struggle between good and evil. The Southern Polish take on all these 'carolling' traditions is particularly out there!
The traditional form of carolling, or Kolędowanie, in the south of Poland is particularly out there!

Finally, in Grudzień, is New Years Eve (PL: Sylwester), which, like in many countries across the world, is highlighted by downtown celebrations, fireworks, and a return to those earthly indulgences that we aren't supposed to enjoy during Christmas. And, with Sylwester, the Polish Calendar Year finally comes to an end!

Check out other months in the Polish Calendar Year!

Styczeń (January)
Luty (February)
Marzec (March)
Kwiecień (April)
Maj (May)
Czerwiec (June)
Lipiec (July)
Sierpień (August)
Wrzesień (September)
Październik (October)
Listopad (November)
Grudzień (December)


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